Review: A Serious Man

There’s nothing quite like watching a Coen Brothers’ film.

A straight-laced, kind hearted father and husband working as a mathematician finds his life suddenly collapsing around him after a series of troubles. Without a sense of determination, faith or self, he begins to seek meaning from the madness.

On paper, and in synopsis, A Serious Man had the potential to be one of my favourite films of the year (and I’ve certainly been meaning it watch it for the last four years!); the Coen Brothers have made some great stories that I really enjoy (The Hudsucker Proxy and Fargo being two) but their films often stray into the too ambiguous to really grab your attention. This one is more towards the latter.

Of course, The Coen Brothers can make very divisive films, and you should take my opinion and the opinions of others with some reservations.
A Serious Man follows the life of Larry Gopnik and his family’s petty trials and tribulations that begin to consume and overwhelm him, we watch a tapestry of life unfold from a single perspective and that makes it a very ambiguous endeavour!

I understood that this was the point and the theme of the film: life can sometimes be hard and very uncompromising. Larry himself says, in his defence of the misfortune happening around him: “But I’ve not done anything!” and that, in itself, was the point.
Larry’s attempts to find meaning and answers within his Jewish faith leads him to even more ambiguity, yet this religious satire is a strong element in the film. Even religions aren’t meant to give answers, but simply ways to deal with life’s problems.

There’s a lot of life’s more curious and surreal events, the idea that nothing is coincidence and that there are real consequences to every decision you make even if you never see the cause and effect yourself. It is an intellectual’s comedy film about the quandaries of life, and I completely bought into it.
But it just didn’t quite grab me enough. I suspect it requires repeated viewing or lengthy debate; people can talk about it for days if they were to give it a chance. But giving it the benefit of the doubt is difficult at first, likely for a lot of audiences… the opening twenty minutes are slow and only offer morsels of intrigue that resurface much later, it doesn’t have snappy dialogue or jazzy quirkiness like a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film.

But it does have a lot to say, and everything it says is neatly packaged within ambiguity and subtly. There’s a good cast of actors that will have you looking up IMDB (yes, that was the guy from Big Bang Theory) who all deliver neat performances. Nothing feels out of place and the pacing was great.

It is a little bit too ambiguous for me though!

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