Saturday, February 13, 2010

Coen Brothers Movie Asks Big Questions

Two recurring themes run through the movies of Joel and Ethan Coen. Fatalism and Absurdity. Their latest movie, "A Serious Man," embodies both themes.

The main character, Larry Gopnick, is a college professor in a mid-life crisis, beset by a scourge of adversity: divorce, tenure threat, no money. Larry is trying to figure out why all this is happening to him and what his own life means.

Science and Religion provide no answers. Larry teaches quantum physics, but his whole blackboard full of equations only proves that nothing in reality is known for certain.

The three Rabbis he consults offer only absurd advice. One babbles about the sheer wondrous reality of a parking lot. The next rabbi sees life as an unknowable, perverse mystery. The oldest rabbi sage quotes lyrics from a Jefferson Airplane song.

Larry is left to find his own meaning for his life. The movie ending is ominous. Larry's doctor calls with bad news about an x-ray. A dangerous tornado funnel is approaching the area. The precariousness of human life remains always.

Larry's struggles may remind some of the Book of Job. But the movie more closely reflects the bleak fatalism of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

"A Serious Man" doesn't give us any answers, only serious questions to think about long afterward.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees

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