The Coens abide

Posted by · 3:44 pm · September 12th, 2009

(from left) Ethan Coen and Joel CoenI’ve been chewing on the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man” like a thick piece of spiritual jerky ever since I walked out of the Clariety screening room in Beverly Hills yesterday evening.  I’ve retweeted other perspectives, exchanged emails with industry types equally leveled by it and, in my own way, started banging the drum for a film I think everyone should see.

It’s sticking with me in the best of ways, I guess you could say.  It’s illuminating unexpected corners.  It really is settling in and staying there.

So I was quick to devour this piece in The Toronto Star by Chicago Sun-Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani.  Falsani is also the author of the book “The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers,” which explores the spiritual messages found in the Coens’ films.  So she was more than qualified to write up the siblings’ most personal and, certainly, most spiritual film to date.

Here’s a taste:

The cinematic styles, periods and themes of their films are so varied, some critics have wondered whether there is an overarching vision to the Coens’ work. I would argue that it is the spirituality – the theological notions, the existential questions, and the religious ideas – of their films that, to paraphrase one of the oft-quoted lines from Lebowski (a flick so spiritually significant and influential that it literally has spawned its own religion, the 60,000-strong Church of the Latter-day Dude), really ties the room together.

That passage really hit me just right, because I’m discovering “A Serious Man” to be one of those films that casts a filmmaker’s (or, in this case, filmmakers’) entire portfolio in a different light.  I’ve never been a disciple of the Coens, and truly, the Coen films that ever landed as top-tier cinema for me were “Barton Fink,” “Fargo,” while I also greatly enjoyed “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

I never latched onto “No Country for Old Men” as the milestone it was considered elsewhere.  And I certainly never worshipped at the altar of “The Big Lebowski” like so many of the annoying kids who trolled the halls of my dorm in the late summer of 1999.  And one of the most reviled Coen efforts — “The Ladykillers” — is one of my favorites.  I’m as against the grain as they come, I’m sure you’ve discovered.

But “A Serious Man” is serious business, and one that literally has me scrambling to re-watch the Coen canon.  The more I turn it over in my head, the more I think it could very well be their best film yet.

Read more from Falsani at The Toronto Star.

→ 12 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

12 responses so far

  • 1 9-12-2009 at 4:31 pm

    Robert Hamer said...


  • 2 9-12-2009 at 4:50 pm

    voland said...

    I’m not to sure what to make of this, you kinda ‘dislike’ No Country For Old Men and The Big Lebowski – two of the very best films I’ve ever seen, and you praise something like Ladykillers, which was and still is just awful, total garbage. So many hyped films coming out these days…

    I hope, A Serious Man is at least half as good as the trailer. Btw, how many songs of Jefferson Airplane (great band) the Coens have used?

  • 3 9-12-2009 at 5:06 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I like what I like. As do you. Simple as that.

    I noticed Today and Somebody To Love. The use of the former is brilliant.

  • 4 9-12-2009 at 5:42 pm

    Danny said...

    I am similar to you in terms of not being the biggest Coen brothers fan. I also wasn’t blown over by No Country for Old Men, and I think Fargo is their best work to date.

    Perhaps I will have a similar experience to you considering it is such a different Coen film.

  • 5 9-12-2009 at 5:54 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    cool, if its coens best picture yet it seems best picture isnt out of the question isnt it, this yeasr is turning out to be what i thought it would, great

  • 6 9-12-2009 at 5:59 pm

    R.J. said...

    What’s so wrong with The Ladykillers? I think it’s pretty damn funny! I absolutely love “No Country” and think it’s an all-around better film (a masterpiece in my opinion), but I still found Ladykillers to be enjoyable. I also think Burn After Reading is underrated, I guess that’s my “Ladykillers”, Kris. My favorite Coen Bros. films would have to be Blood Simple, O Brother Where Art Thou & No Country for Old Men. I’m becoming a bigger fan as the days go by, but I know that they’ve missed the mark a few times (Intolerable Cruelty), and it even took me a few viewings to really see why Fargo was so loved and it’s still not a favorite of mine, despite Frances McDormand’s brilliant performance. I have yet to see The Big Lebowski (don’t kill me!), hopefully that one will live up to the hype.

  • 7 9-12-2009 at 5:59 pm

    Yasin said...

    I’m also kind of weird. I disliked Barton Fink and No Country, but greatly enjoyed Ladykillers and O Brother

    But my favorite Coen brothers movie is one of their most overlooked: The Man Who Wasn’t There.

  • 8 9-12-2009 at 6:38 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I would have loved The Man Who Wasn’t There were it not for that botched and ridiculous scene between Birdy and Ed in the car. That whole exchange rang so false and stupid that it almost ruined the film for me.

  • 9 9-12-2009 at 7:45 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I was labeled crazy last year when I said “Burn After Reading” was up there along with “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men” as their best work.

    I have no doubt I am going to love this.

  • 10 9-13-2009 at 2:31 pm

    Mr. Harmonica said...

    “And I certainly never worshipped at the altar of “The Big Lebowski” like so many of the annoying kids who trolled the halls of my dorm in the late summer of 1999.”


  • 11 9-13-2009 at 8:56 pm

    Marvin said...

    My favorite by the Coen’s- Barton Fink, Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men.

  • 12 9-14-2009 at 6:24 am

    El Rocho said...

    We thinking strong Oscar contention here?

    Also, I feel the Coen Brothers are two of the great greatest filmmakers of our generation.

    Every film of theirs (yes, including ‘The Ladykillers’ and ‘Intolerable Cruelty’) is a masterwork of filmmaking. From the opening shot of ‘Blood Simple’ (one of the greatest debuts of all time) to final lines of ‘No Country for Old Men’, they had me. They are the reason I wanted to be a filmmaker.