Richard’s Year of Movies — A Serious Man

There were plenty of people who hated the ending of No Country For Old Men because so much is left unresolved, and what is isn’t very happy.

Those people would absolutely hate A Serious Man.

I have to admit, I sat there in a bit of slack-jawed shock when the film ended.  It wasn’t anger, or even dissatisfaction.  It was more amazement at the sheer audacity of it.  And at how it completely recasts everything you’ve seen up until that point.

Like No Country, A Serious Man offers no real resolution, at least from a story standpoint.  In fact, the events of the last ten minutes feel more like they should come after the first twenty, like they’re setting up the complications for the characters we’ve just met.  But thematically, the film ends exactly where it should.

The film starts off with the quote “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.”  It almost seems to be warning you that unexpected things are coming, and to take them in stride.  Which is precisely what the central character, Larry Gropnick, doesn’t do.  Everything is a crisis, while everyone else around him calmly — almost too calmly in some cases, as with his wife and the man she’s leaving Larry for — moves through their daily lives.  Larry turns everywhere for answers, to find comfort, meaning, resolution in the turmoil of his life, and no one is able to provide it.  All of it presented in layers of hilarious awkwardness at which the Coens are so adept.

And when Larry finally seems to have come to some conclusions, and taken some control of his life, life comes along and shows him who’s really in control.  And the film ends, leaving us filled with the exact same discomfort and uncertainty Larry feels.  It’s almost a Sopranos/”Don’t Stop Believin'” moment, both in its abruptness and its misunderstanding by a lot of viewers.  I’m being deliberately vague in case anyone hasn’t seen  it and wants to,  because you really deserve to experience the ending unfettered by foreknowledge.  

I will say pay particular attention to the record albums mentioned.  In a film as carefully structured as this, their selection has to be deliberate, and they offer up plenty of food for thought.

I’ve heard some people complain that the film is too Jewish, but that strikes me as just a way to hold the film at arm’s length.  There’s nothing here you can’t understand if you don’t go to synagogue every week — they’re universal problems with Jewish trappings. 

After being less than thrilled with Burn After Reading, this was a welcome volley from the Coens.  It’s got an amazing sense of the period, sharp writing, great peformances, and of course, that shattering end that seems to hit like a


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