A serious movie


Time magazine has an early look at the new film from Joel and Ethan Coen, "A Serious Man," which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival over the weekend (it will be in theaters Oct. 2). The Coen brothers have been increasingly integrating Jewish themes into their work in recent years, and generated intense buzz last year when they agreed to adapt Michael Chabon’s "The Yiddish Policemen’s Union" for the screen. 

Here’s Time’s synopsis of the film. The trailer follows.

In the two weeks leading up to his son’s bar mitzvah, Larry is subject to a catalog of social crimes, small and large. His wife Judy (Sari Lennick) has become close with family friend Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed); she wants Sy to move in and Larry to stay at the Jolly Roger. Larry and Judith’s son (Aaron Wolff) is slumming through Hebrew school and harangues Dad to adjust the rooftop TV aerial so F Troop can come in clearly. Their daughter (Jessica McManus) thinks only getting a nose job and washing her hair, which she can’t do nearly enough of because Larry’s live-in, layabout brother (Richard Kind) spends a lot of time in the bathroom medicating his neck cyst. 


At work, where Larry is up for tenure, a Korean student to whom he gave a failing grade leaves him an envelope full of bribe money; when Larry refuses, the student’s father drops by to say he may sue the professor for defamation. The neighbor on one side is a belligerent, moose-killing goy; on the other side is not threat but temptation in the form of a pretty woman (Amy Landecker) who smokes pot while sunbathing nude. Anything else? Larry’s legal bills are piling up, he just crashed his car, he needs to visit his doctor, and the guy from the Columbia Record Club keeps calling to dun him for a membership Larry never took out. According to those in his local synagogue, he isn’t even the serious man of the title; that honorific goes to the oleaginous, wife-stealing Sy. Compared to Larry, Job had it easy.


Larry is a familiar figure from Jewish literature that dates back to the Old Testament and up to Bruce Jay Friedman’s 1962 novel Stern, about a Jew who moves to the suburbs and endures a plague of abuse from neighbors and nature. The men at the center of Philip Roth’s novels may rage and flail, but Larry doesn’t dish out insults, he takes them. When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies, just suck it up and hope you don’t explode. That’s Larry’s method of coping. In Stuhlberg’s precise embodiment, Larry accepts all tribulations with a mouth pressed into pruny silence, as if he had bitten into something rancid but doesn’t want to be seen spitting it out. Wouldn’t matter if he did: no one gives him a moment to articulate the psychic pains he harbors.



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