The Coen Brothers occupy a difficult position in American culture. The pair’s been responsible for a few of the most thoughtful and artfully rendered filmic work over the last twenty years. Simultaneously, though, they’ve also worked up fair like The Big Lebowski, which can’t be said to be anything other than a spectacular comedy. But after finding such a wide audience, the duo has endeavored to craft a few pictures that seem much darker and personal in nature.
The fact that A Serious Man can’t be said to have been one of the higher profile releases last year speaks volumes about the Coen’s relationship to the larger Hollywood system and how it functions. There were rumblings about whether or not the flick would receive any awards a few months back – but winning trophies hasn’t been this family’s focus. Instead, the Coen’s sought to incorporate their childhood upbringing in a film while tossing in a generous portion of insidery Jewish culture. There’s really no way that too many folks who saw the movie were able to follow all of the Yiddish and Hebrew sprinkled in to the main character’s, Larry Gopnik, daily speech. A ‘get’ doesn’t even usually find mention in most Jewish household’s today, so the chance of goys have any sense of what’s going on before it’s plainly explained isn’t too likely.
That in and of itself may have accounted for the film’s lack of widespread renown. Jews don’t run the media. The film's success – or lack there of – here is more than ample proof. But what could account for the luke warm public response to filmmakers who have racked up huge hits in the past?
Maybe it’s all the heavy handed, life crushing existentialism getting thrown around over the course of A Serious Man’s hour and forty minute run time. The Gopnik character, an estranged father of two brats, has already been endlessly compared to the Biblical Job – with good reason. And that was surely a consideration by the Coens’. It must have been. But more importantly, it would seem that this character’s life falling apart has as much to do with modernity than anything else. The film’s summation bears that out to a certain extent.
The world the Gopniks' occupy, though, is pretty ridiculous. The youngest son attends an all Jewish school which doesn’t preclude a neighborhood drug dealer and classmate from causing trouble, though. And the majority of the film, when the boy isn’t studying his Torah portion, he’s running down the street attempting to avoid a beating.
Concurrently, his father is being shoved out of his own home by Mrs. Gopnik’s nice enough lover. Moving into a motel with his brother, Gopnik is necessitated to return to the home he owns to fix the television, console his ex-wife and to carry on with his sexy neighbor, who gets Gopnik stoned and proceeds to make bored love with the man.
There isn’t a point to most of A Serious Man apart from the fact that sometimes life’s a bummer and sometimes it’s not. There’s no rhyme or reason to it all. But it might have been a bit better for Gopnik if he was able to sit around with his kid and just get stoned.