a-serious-man-poster-lgI sense that this is the Coen Brothers’ most personal film. I’m not saying this because they are Jewish and the film is about a Jewish man. A Serious Man explores philosophical issues in the life of one man in what feels like a semi-autobiographical context. I have seen just about every Coen Bros. movie. I hold them as one of the greatest and most unique artists in modern cinema. Every one of the brothers’ films is set in a distinct world that delves into various facets of our society. However, inasmuch as their films are a mirror, albeit a distorted one, that reflects who we are, I have always sensed a distance between the brothers and their films. A Serious Man is as personal a film as the Coen Bros. can make and because of that I regard this as one of their best films.

A Serious Man is about a physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) in Minnesota (where the Coen Brothers were born and raised) in 1967 who has just been informed by his wife (Sari Lennick) that she is divorcing him. This begins the unraveling of the professor’s life as he deals with an unemployable brother (Richard Kind) who sleeps on his couch, his son’s (Aaron Wolff) discipline problems and upcoming Bar Mitzvah, his issues at school in getting tenure and dealing with a student who’s blackmailing him to get an A in his class, etc. All of these problems cause the professor to ask himself what life is about and why do bad things seem to happen to the good guys (the ‘serious man’).

If I were to find a simplistic way to describe this film, I would call it the Jewish American Beauty. However, it does the film an injustice to describe it this way and it downplays the film’s message. The performances given by everyone is worth the price of admission alone. Great performances are the one thing you can always count on in a Coen Bros. film and its a testament to what great directors they are. A lot of attention has been given by the critics and the media to Michael Stuhlbarg, who you have probably never heard of (neither have I). His performance here is a career-making achievement and he draws you into his stressful world immediately. Whats amazing and sad in watching this character is how, despite all the world of shit raining on his head, he tries to maintain a semblance of normality in his life and find answers to all his problems even when there are no answers.

A Serious Man is a perfect character study that uses the narrative to flesh out our characters. Many people I know do not care so much for Coen Bros. films precisely because of their style of storytelling. Its not uncommon to hear people gripe that there is no story in their films. Its true that the stories the Coen Bros. tell are typically not your conventional narratives that you’re used to seeing in more commercial films. Their stories are used more as a character-building device than anything. The same is true in A Serious Man. The beauty of watching a film like this is the interactions between the characters and the hilarious situations and quirks they present to the audience. If you ask any Coen Bros enthusiast to tell you what they like about any of their films, they will more likely than not cite a favorite character instead of their favorite plotline or scene. Again, this is what you get with this film.

As you can obviously tell, I enjoyed A Serious Man quite a bit and I hope the film receives some attention during the upcoming awards season. This is not a mainstream movie so not everyone will care for it. However, if you like a little substance in your moviegoing experience, then it will be your worthwhile to check this movie out.