“We’re going to be fine.”

Posted by · 9:10 pm · October 28th, 2009

Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious ManThose of you who enjoy it when Kris and I butt heads over one film or another — as on the two occasions this past week alone that I’ve been unceremoniously fired — will be disappointed to hear that an entente cordiale has arrived in the shape of “A Serious Man.” (Ironic, really — since when did the Coen Brothers make movies designed to bring people together?)

Anyway, while I don’t know yet whether my passion for the film will run quite as deep as Kris’s by the year’s end, I have no qualms whatsoever about echoing his sentiments that “A Serious Man” is an extraordinary feat.

Novelistic in its reach and rhythms, but intrinsically cinematic in the way Roger Deakins’s calmly predatory camera investigates physical and personal space, it seems a direct (if deliciously perverse) rebuttal to claims made by the duo’s detractors that their films are overly hermetic, unwilling to engage with the world around them.

“A Serious Man,” with its disconcerting balance of loose, gonzo goofery and tightly wound despair, proves that they can have it both ways: in a story of the multiple ways in which neighborly structures of faith and community can fail the individual (or so it seemed to me, at least — I’ve heard a number of interpretations floating around today), their typically skewed, heightened perspective seems less arch for having found a protagonist as fearful of everyday life as they appear to be.

(Does Michael Stuhlbarg offer the most finely etched performance yet in a Coen film? I’m tempted to say yes. Why are we even having to talk about filling certain Best Actor slots when this man’s work is out there for all to see?)

It’s the rare film that you look forward to seeing again as even you’re watching it for the first time, and consequently I don’t want to write much more about it now — not for lack of understanding, but the curiosity to see how the film shifts and alters when challenged with one’s conclusions from the outset of a second viewing.

I’d hesitate to say this is their finest film — I’m still very attached to “No Country for Old Men,” after all, with which I think “A Serious Man” has more in common than meets the eye. (Fuck, I just got fired again.) And the “Barton Fink” comparison goes without saying. But they’ve never made something quite so steeped in feeling.

On a more trivial note, I couldn’t help admiring (as merely one tiny aspect of the film’s immaculate production and costume design throughout) the retroactively stylish eyeglass frames that Stuhlbarg’s Larry Gopnik wears throughout — only for a friend to later mail me, coincidentally enough, this little piece on men’s style blog Kempt, which hails Gopnik’s Moscot eyewear as “the official glasses of metaphysical crisis.” I’m totally buying a pair.

→ 18 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

18 responses so far

  • 1 10-28-2009 at 9:44 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I’m certainly not disappointed, haha. I would have been rather concerned if you didn’t at least like the movie. Like “No Country for Old Men,” the Coens once again knocked me out with this one. I stumbled around breathless after the movie, trying to piece it all together, and literally had much trouble getting to sleep the first night because I was thinking about it so much. I felt like the dentist in the movie who lay asleep trying to figure out the mystery of the goy’s teeth. Heh.

  • 2 10-28-2009 at 9:44 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Ive really disliked most Coen films, and I thought I would this one to but I like to have an open mind so I gave it a shot. I loved it, theres so much to process and understand and its all funny at the same time, their best film in my eyes, second of the year behind basterds

  • 3 10-28-2009 at 9:52 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I guess I’ll be the lone contributor who just didn’t fancy this film at all.

  • 4 10-28-2009 at 10:05 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    new avatar trailer up guys, looks much better

  • 5 10-28-2009 at 10:08 pm

    Homero said...

    I feel like they made this movie to make all non-Jews feel lost as they watched it…I DON’T UNDERSTAND HEBREW, JOEL & ETHAN! I’M SORRY!!

    I didn’t really “get” the film the first time, although the Jewish guy next to me loved it because he could understand everything, so I’ll probably make it a double feature on Sunday w/An Education and maybe take down some notes again.

    I will say that I did love how hilarious it is, it felt good to laugh at things other than dick and rape jokes for once (I’m a stand up comic). I have a feeling that, like Punch-Drunk Love and Mulholland Drive, it will probably have an entire website dedicated to interpretations of the symbolism used heavily throughout the entire film.

  • 6 10-28-2009 at 10:09 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    I am Jewish and I did not get a lot of the jokes and terms. However I thought this movie was excellent. It has to be nominated for best pic.

  • 7 10-28-2009 at 11:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Req: Don’t feel like posting a sublime-slathered international embed. The real deal hits tomorrow. We’ll post then.

  • 8 10-29-2009 at 4:21 am

    Simone said...

    I saw ‘A Serious Man’ at tiff and it was ok. I had some hearty chuckles, but overall, it left me a little perplexed. I will have to watch it again on DVD to find an appreciation for it like most people do. I love the Coen brothers, but this one missed the mark for me on the first viewing.

    I also could have been just tired as that was the fourth film I saw that day at TIFF.

  • 9 10-29-2009 at 5:35 am

    Hero said...

    Couldn’t you just take one for the team and not write anything that would piss Kris off for a change? If you get fired, I’m going to be seriously bummed.

  • 10 10-29-2009 at 7:50 am

    Speaking English said...

    Okay, you don’t have to be Jewish to like this film. Of course it helps when considering the in-jokes, but this is very much a universal, richly philosophical parable for anyone who has ever felt pressure in their lives and tried to make sense of it. It’s really as simple as that… it just uses Judaism as a point of reference, but you could pretty much substitute it for any religious. Trying to find solace and answers in your religion is a very common things. In the movie, religion doesn’t have the answers.

  • 11 10-29-2009 at 8:51 am

    Zan said...

    Folks are tending to overlook the little things too I’ve noticed. And the little details carry the film into new heights in terms of subtext and depth. For example, the Schrodinger’s Cat reference at the beginning is an allegory for the whole film.

    That Jefferson Airplane choice wasn’t just a coincidence either. The entire finished product is so layered and dense that it will inevitably take several viewings just to digest fully. Right now I have it as the second or third best film of the year.

  • 12 10-29-2009 at 9:04 am

    Chase K. said...

    Best film of the year, and Speaking English is right in a general sense: this is a film about 60’s/70’s Jewish suburban culture and religion that bears a universal message.

    It deals with the interpretation of truth, destiny, and faith. What does it all mean? Why is this happening? etc, etc. What the Coens come up with is: dont’ even bother, it’s fruitless.

    I’m also pretty sure that Clive’s view on unjustly test results (taking a test without knowing the answers) is directly related to Larry’s situation.

  • 13 10-29-2009 at 9:08 am

    Chase K. said...

    “For example, the Schrodinger’s Cat reference at the beginning is an allegory for the whole film. ”

    Sure. The film is essentially a fable or “illustration” of what the Coen’s are saying. Larry even tells us that it’s not going to make sense by conceding that even he doesn’t understand the Cat experiment.

  • 14 10-29-2009 at 2:45 pm

    daveylow said...

    I hated this film.

  • 15 10-29-2009 at 6:07 pm

    head_wizard said...

    Just saw this and think this is there second best film (Barton Fink is still the champ) I have never been a huge fan of their work, but this worked as Guy said “It’s the rare film that you look forward to seeing again as even you’re watching it for the first time” I was never completly involved but after the ending my first thought was I need to see this again.

  • 16 10-29-2009 at 7:55 pm

    Zan said...

    I loved the anecdotal short at the beginning. It was a great parallel for the rest of the film to base itself around.

  • 17 10-29-2009 at 9:07 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Haven’t the Coen Brothers gone on record as saying that the opening doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the film?

  • 18 10-29-2009 at 9:22 pm

    Speaking English said...

    The Coens are elusive ciphers themselves. They never have anything to say about their movies, but they’re layered with A LOT of meaning nonetheless.

    What strikes me as so amazing is I look at them, I hear them mumble incoherently, and I wonder how two seemingly average, antisocial guys could make such beautifully profound, sharply observant films. There’s way more there than meets the eye.