Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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A Serious Man

Film #299

THE PLOT

A black comedy drama centered on Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern professor who watches his life unravel through multiple sudden incidents. Though seeking for meaning and answers he seems to stay stalled.

Year 1, Day 310

BEFORE: Yes, I’m still here! My thoughts on this past week are too great too mention. Suffice it to say, if not for the Dilbert-esque world in which we live, I could have kept up with the marathon. But alas, here we are, on a glorious Monday and (at least) a one day break from my hiatus. This break is sponsored by A Serious Man, the first Coen brothers film in the marathon since No Country for Old Men (the seventh overall). Expect another break after this (things should be full-speed by Friday) but for now, I get to sit back and enjoy.

AFTER: Something I don’t mention often, or call out specifically, is the opening scenes in films. One of the most important parts of the film is the opening because it is what grabs your attention and makes you want to watch. The rest of the film can pick up and redeem itself for a poor opening, but in general a good opening will lead to at least a decent film. With A Serious Man, the opening did just that. It was completely unexpected, random, and doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the film, but it intrigued me - it got me interested in what was going to come next. But most of all, it set up the style of the film and prepared me for what type of a film I was going to see: black comedy.

A Serious Man isn’t funny in the traditional sense where someone says a joke and you chuckle, or some physical altercation happens that causes you not to cringe in pain but laugh at the person. It’s much more subdued and cerebral than that. I’ll compare it to Arrested Development (which as you should know is coming back for a fourth season in a few weeks). With that show, I did find myself audibly laughing, but the appeal for me was much more internal. Their comedy had me invested in the characters and their story, and while I may not have emitted that many laughs, I still found it funny which in turn made me want to see more. A Serious Man is quite similar. You don’t laugh at much of the film, but the serious situations and life crises that Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is going through has a humor to it that’s hard to pinpoint. Every once and a while there is a great joke - my favorite being Larry’s secretary saying, “Dick Dutton is on the phone,” to which Larry replies, “Tell him I’m having a heart attack.” - but most of the time there isn’t. It’s funny, but you don’t really laugh. The bottom line though, is you keep watching.

Much in the same way that this ambiguity and mysteriousness to both the film and its humor helps the film by keeping my engaged, it does get too confusing at times. This I’ll stipulate with the disclaimer that I don’t really have time to stop and think about what the film means. A lot of this confusion might have been explained - which is perfectly ok - but it leaves this disconnect. Going back to that opening scene, it seems out of place and irrelevant (along with many other subplots in the film) after first viewing with little to no effort on my part to try and figure out what it all means. There maybe, and probably is, some deeper meaning behind all this for which this ambiguity and confusion helps explain and detail. But, to compare it to Inception, that film it isn’t. Not only is this ambiguity not on the same type (more thematic rather than of the mind-f that is *Inception) but it’s also not on the same scale. After Inception ended, the first thing I did was try to figure out what happened and discuss possibilities with my friends. After A Serious Man, I’m more of, “I wonder what that means? I also wonder what’s for lunch today.”

All-in-all, another great entry by the Coen brothers. Fans of theirs should make every attempt to see this film as it has their signature written all over it. I would list it somewhere in their top three (of the ones I’ve seen) behind No Country for Old Men and right on par with Fargo. Obviously some differences between all the films, but in terms of entertainment and pure enjoyment value, A Serious Man delivers in spades.

RATING: 4 out of 5