The Coens’ ‘A Serious Man’ is a miracle movie

Posted by · 8:01 pm · September 11th, 2009

Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious ManI wanted to sit down and write a full review of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “A Serious Man,” but structuring my thoughts around a paradigm such as that seems folly at this stage.  I need to see it again — and will certainly do so many more times — before any sort of authoritative personal take will begin to surface.  But a few things stand out that are worth conveying.

In my view, it is the finest Coen film since “Fargo” and, perhaps, since “Barton Fink.”  It is without question the siblings’ most personal film to date, an exploration of the “What does it all mean?” thoughts that plague each of us on a daily basis.  (The repetition of the line, “What’s going on?,” is by no means incidental.)

However, despite the film’s heavy dosage of the particulars of the Jewish faith, it is also curiously universal.  After all, I don’t know from Hashem, but the film affected me deeply, it’s themes and ideas resonating from start to finish.

The film is beautifully abstract, making the impact of its thought-provoking ideas all the more profound.  It features a central performance that could seem merely capbale at first notice, but has a certain refined quality the more one considers it.  And there is a remarkable rhythm to the film, a reminder of the Coens’ brilliance at orchestration and craft.

That’s all I’ll say for now.  “A Serious Man” is a work of art, plain and simple.  I’m smitten.

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32 responses so far

  • 1 9-11-2009 at 8:06 pm

    Speaking English said...


  • 2 9-11-2009 at 8:07 pm

    Joel said...

    Awesome. I feared it would meet the same fate as “No Country for Old Men” and “Burn After Reading” from you, Kris. But this is promising for sure.

    Dumb question: Any sort of idea–even a first-impression idea–of the star rating for this from you? Sounds like four stars to me, but I thought I’d ask.

    Dumber question, probably: How is this year turning out for you thus far? You seem to have liked a LOT of movies since August, so is this year becoming a great one or what?

  • 3 9-11-2009 at 8:10 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...


  • 4 9-11-2009 at 8:11 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    And this year is getting better and better. More four star reviews from me than any other year this decade.

    Or maybe I’m getting soft. :)

  • 5 9-11-2009 at 8:16 pm

    James D. said...

    Well this is certainly great news. I have been lukewarm about this until now.

  • 6 9-11-2009 at 8:23 pm

    benitodelicias said...

    and Richard Kind?

    I’m waiting to see what happens with him after all of the things we’ve been hearing….

  • 7 9-11-2009 at 8:28 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Tapley you’re wrong on NCFOM, but still this review has me stoked.

  • 8 9-11-2009 at 8:29 pm

    Danny said...

    Great to hear your enthusiasm for these upcoming films. First Up In the Air, now this one…Shaping up to be a very exciting Awards season.

  • 9 9-11-2009 at 8:37 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    benitodelicias: I don’t think Kind will figure in ultimately, but he’s great in the role regardless.

    I think Michael Stuhlbarg could really make a play, however.

  • 10 9-11-2009 at 8:42 pm

    Neal said...

    Kris, I know this is kind of OT but if you had to give a star rating to Precious what would it be?

  • 11 9-11-2009 at 8:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    LOL, four.

  • 12 9-11-2009 at 8:46 pm

    Joel said...

    Hahahaha. I REALLY can’t wait for this one and I trust you, Kris. I may disagree with you a lot, but you’re one of the most no-nonsense critics out there, something I’ve known since I found this site on accident in December 2006 and kept accidentally going on it. ;P I’m glad this year is shaping up for you, as it is for me. Hell, I even found “Sorority Row” enjoyable. Sue me. I can’t wait for some of these movies to, you know, release.

  • 13 9-11-2009 at 9:01 pm

    bradley said...

    I’m a huge Coen Brothers fan, but I’m also deeply anti-semitic and peripherally associated with several neo-nazi organizations. Do you think I’ll still be able to enjoy this film regardless? I certainly hope so.

  • 14 9-11-2009 at 9:09 pm

    Chase Kahn said...

    I’ve watched “No Country For Old Men” maybe 6 times through from start to finish and only on the 5th viewing did I truly “love” it. I think it’s an amazing film.

  • 15 9-11-2009 at 9:18 pm

    Alex said...

    bradley, I will you give me permission to print that on a t-shirt? It’s classic.

  • 16 9-11-2009 at 9:19 pm

    Alex said...

    sorry…I have just discovered in the last 10 seconds that I am mildly dyslexic.

    bradley, will you give me permission to print that on a t-shirt? It’s classic.

  • 17 9-11-2009 at 10:54 pm

    BobMcBob said...

    Never liked the Coen Brothers, and never will.

    The Coen brothers are elitists who enjoy insulting everyone from the common man to the high-brow intellectual; their films are emotionally distant and don’t engage the audience into the experience, but rather keep the audience at arm’s length.

    Here’s an example of the contempt Joel Coen has for the audience:

    “I hate when people cry in movies. It’s particularly disconcerting when you’re sitting at a really awful movie and you hear people all around you sobbing and blowing their noses.”

    This new film looks like it’ll continue their trend of finding all that is vile in human behavior, and ignoring all that is good.

  • 18 9-11-2009 at 11:15 pm

    Glenn said...

    I’d like to read your review of the film after one viewing. I’m against the idea that someone “has” to see a movie multiple times to “get” it because, as critics, you are writing for an audience who – generally – will only see a movie once (usually because they don’t have the $$ or the time to see it a second time) so I think having seen a movie 2, 3 or 4 times (at no expense, it must be said) is a bit disingenuous. But that might just be me.

    Sounds promising though, but as I’ve read elsewhere if you’re not into early Coens then this might not be for you. Hmmm.

  • 19 9-11-2009 at 11:51 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    so kris, out of the movies youe seen this year what would take best picture for you? dont kill me.

  • 20 9-12-2009 at 12:00 am

    RichardA said...

    sounds like a…middle age crisis movie, again.
    “what it all means is” probably answered in the movie ‘up in the air’ which really is a lesson that we really should know by now and have probably been figured out by the generation before this one.

    can’t wait to see the new coen’s movie.

  • 21 9-12-2009 at 12:09 am

    BDM said...

    How’s Richard Kind? is he nominee worthy or better kris?

  • 22 9-12-2009 at 12:28 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Glenn, only the worst and silliest movie critics would write “for the audience”.

  • 23 9-12-2009 at 12:34 am

    Jim said...

    While I disagree with you on No Country for Old Men as I loved it, I’m glad to hear you really enjoyed this. I was thinking just today how I don’t think there are better filmmakers than the Coens looking at American culture and our family values, or values in general and what is important to us even if it seems sincere or wrong. They then take those unhumane actions to hopefully develop and grow the characters, and perhaps not meet their depise. Whatever it is, there is generally commentary without of course feeling preachy.

  • 24 9-12-2009 at 12:51 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Req: I have a little thing called a top 10 list landing later this year. I’m sure all of your questions will be answered then.

  • 25 9-12-2009 at 5:19 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    “The Coen brothers are elitists who enjoy insulting everyone from the common man to the high-brow intellectual.”

    Oh please. Pregnant small town cop Marge Gunderson is one of the most heroic characters to ever grace a movie screen, and several of their films feature the “common man” pitted against authoritarian figures and institutions (Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There, O Brother Where Art Thou?). Calling the Coen Brothers elitist is about as wrongheaded as calling Lars von Trier misogynist.

    And Kris, this rather piques my interest. I’m still not entirely convinced as I don’t agree with you that often (your negative reaction of No Country for Old Men, your adoration for Slumdog Millionaire, your too-soft review of Terminator Salvation), but I never miss a Coen Brothers movie, and this certainly doesn’t hurt my trepidation.

  • 26 9-12-2009 at 6:04 am

    Loyal said...

    Is that The Bradley? You took my comment at HE and ran with it. Well done!

  • 27 9-12-2009 at 6:16 am

    kid said...

    I saw the film at tiff yesterday morning and I loved it as well but I completely agree I don’t think you could review a film like that after only one viewing. I thought Richard Kind was very good in his roll but I don’t think it was big enough to get him an oscar nomination.

  • 28 9-12-2009 at 7:08 am

    Tolliver said...

    I saw it too, and think that in the supporting players arena, Fred Melamed, as the unctuous Sy, gives a wonderful performance, much more crucial to the film, and is much more likely to recognized come awards time than Richard Kind, good as he is in his limited role.

  • 29 9-12-2009 at 10:54 am

    Marvin said...

    This movie is firmly set for my most anticipated for the rest of the year along w. Los abrazos rotos and Lorna’s Secret. My favorite of the Coen’s is Barton Fink and I thought Burn After Reading to be quite disappointing, one of last year’s worst actually, but I have big expectations for A Serious Man.

  • 30 9-12-2009 at 11:10 am

    Frank Lee said...

    Earlier people were listing the ten movies they were most excited to see this fall/Christmas, and I couldn’t think of more than two or three. Now it’s much easier:

    An Education; A Serious Man; A Single Man;Up in the Air;Precious; Antichrist; Broken Embraces; It’s Complicated (a guilty pleasure); and that Sandra Bullock movie about the football player she adopts. (Can’t remember the title.) I’d have ten, but I’ve already seen Inglorious Basterds.

  • 31 9-12-2009 at 12:08 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Hamer: Too-soft review of Terminator? WTF? I trashed it!

  • 32 9-14-2009 at 6:16 am

    El Rocho said...

    Do you think this could play out like ‘No Country for Old Men’? Or at least nominations for the films, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay nods?