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A Serious Man is the story of an ordinary man’s search for clarity in a universe where Jefferson Airplane is on the radion and F-Troop is on TV. It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) that she is leaving him. She has fallen in love with one of his more pompous acquaintances, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), who seems to her a more substantial person than the feckless Larry. Larry’s unemployable brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny (Aaron Wolff) is a discipline problem and a shirker at Hebrew school, and his daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) is filching money from his wallet in order to save up for a nose job.
While his wife and Sy Ableman blithely make new domestic arrangements, and his brother becomes more and more of a burden, an anonymous hostile letter-writer is trying to sabotage Larry’s chances for tenure at the university. Also, a graduate student seems to be trying to bribe him for a passing grade while at the same time threatening to sue him for defamation. Plus, the beautiful woman next door torments him by sunbathing nude. Struggling for equilibrium, Larry decides to seek answers from three local rabbi, none of which are able to give him any advice he believes to be of value. And things only get worse, because they certainly aren’t getting any better.
This movie on one level is an exploration of what it was like to grow up Jewish in the midwest in the late sixties, of what it’s like to grow up Jewish at all trying to find meaning in a world while following a god who has failed millions.
A Serious Man is a brilliant dark comedy which will have you laughing out loud, a skilled character study filled with great acting, of a family in crisis, the moral decisions they face, and the funny consequences that result. The ending will have you talking about the movie after leaving the theater, in a confused daze. But that’s to be expected of a Coen Brothers film.
Richard Kind states, “A Serious Man is, I believe, how Joel and Ethan Coen view the world and ‘the human condition.’ It’s also a good yard about one very sad SOB.“