Sometimes I want to smack myself. Clench my fingers into a tight knot and shoot the fist upward into my jaw. All while saying, “What took you so long?”
One of those times was two nights ago, when, after work, I strolled my way over to a local AMC theater to catch the Coen Brothers‘ latest, A Serious Man. For those who don’t frequent acclaimed film blogs and critics circles (meaning the vast majority), A Serious Man has been nonexistent, riddled to a small pocket of major city screens. If you do visit the cinema-forward websites that I’m all over on a daily basis, though, you’ll currently see this one placing rather high on most heads’ Best of 2009 lists. It’s Joel and Ethan Coen, so naturally it’s praised in the highest of ways, and typically their two-sided name would have been enough to have me immediately slurping down flat Diet Coke and overpriced popcorn. Something about A Serious Man hadn’t clicked with me, though. The excitement wasn’t there. Anticipation was vacant. The problem is, I’m still not sure why. Literally a week before the film’s trailer premiered online, I’d once again devoured Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing; resisting the latest picture from the fellas responsible for those two gems should never happen, right?
The fact that I’ve finally seen A Serious Man and I’m quite the fan proves that my indifference was indeed foolish. We all go a little mad sometimes. Yours truly included. While most critics are claiming this to be the best film of the Coens’ career, I’m nowhere near as exclamatory; however, that doesn’t mean it’ll simply come and go in my head. In fact, the film’s lasting power in my thoughts is exactly why I dig it so much. Sitting there in the scarcely-populated AMC theater, I absorbed the film with quiet attentiveness, but never outright verve. A few chuckles here and there, but mostly casual entertainment. But then the morbidly poetic final shot came, and I was pretty floored. Initially, in a “What the hell was that? Are you kidding?” way, but then, no more than 20 minutes later, the last image stained itself in my brain. I couldn’t shake it. And that’s when I totally got it. I was right there with the Coens. It’s a alternately profound, ironic and fearless place to be.
The film’s closer tops their fury-causing, heavily debated No Country for Old Men ending, in my eyes. It’s just as maddening at first, but then equally as esoteric and poignant upon closer inspection. Much like as A Serious Man as a whole.
Continued after the jump:
This isn’t a formal review, or even an informal analysis—–let’s make that clear. I’m merely hoping to spark some intrigue into the film, for all 11 of you who read this here site (and I do appreciate each and every one of y’all). A Serious Man is one of those films that demands multiple viewings, which means I’ll have to wait for its DVD street date before I can truly analyze the thing (Christmas season/shopping pretty much eliminates seeing any film more than once in theaters…. damn $12.50 ticket prices).
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” would’ve been a fitting subtitle for this one. Its main character, Larry Gopnick (played by the now-unknown, but ideally-soon-to-be-a-force Michael Stahlberg, who’s terrific), is an everyday, hard-working schlub who can’t catch a break. Those unsympathetic higher forces keep defecating on his life, whether its through his wife, who’s suddenly cheating and wants a divorce, or his place of work, where his teaching tenure is at risk of disappearing after a bizarre Asian student plays him for a bribe-accepting goof. He seeks wisdom from three separate rabbis; surely, one of them can help Larry figure out why he’s going through the ringer for no fair reason. Of course, it’s not that easy…. is it ever, especially in a Coen Bros. film?
Things go from bad to worse to I’m-fucked for Larry, before a couple rays of hope seep through the disasters. At this point, you’ve completely forgotten about the film’s first montage, which blended Larry’s son’s bully problems with Larry’s own visit to a doctor. Seems like a routine check-up, you previously thought. That formerly blase scene evolves into a game-changer, though; a possible life-ender. And it’s paired with a payoff for his son’s subplot that ends in the film’s aforementioned final shot. One that, we as the audience knows, won’t end well. It’s so unexpected yet perfectly in line with the film’s overall, underlying theme that I’m inclined to deem it as “brilliant.” That last shot, to be honest here, is the main reason why I’m considering A Serious Man for a rather-high spot on my soon-to-come Best of ’09 list.
I’d love to further write about how that final scene connects so well with everything that comes before it, but I’d like to see A Serious Man again before doing so. It’s been a hell of a busy week, and I didn’t have my critical hat firmly fastened while watching this the other night. I know there’s plenty to be said, though, and one of these days I’ll be able to write my fingertips off. I haven’t even touched upon its religious subtext, the Book of Job ingredients. That’s an enormous can of worms in itself.
Do yourselves a favor and catch A Serious Man before it exits the limited amounts of theaters it’s presently inhabiting. Then hit me so we can chat about it in depth. Pretty please?