Sunday, 6 December 2009
The trademark Coen palette of oddness and the unnatural natural seems to be at its most apposite in A Serious Man, as Jewish professor Larry Gropnik struggles to comprehend the series of fantastic personal catastrophes his faith continually tells him is natural. Divorced by his wife and encumbered by a troubled brother, Larry is increasingly subjected to these fantastic misfortunes, all tightly structured by the Coens around visits to three rabbis and his son’s approaching bar mitzvah. A professor of physics, his appeal to mathematical proofs yield no concrete answers and neither do the po-faced and bizarre counsels of the three rabbis, and after each meeting Larry has his faith tested, in his commitment to be A Serious Man. As this series of misfortunes slides further worse as he has nightmares, those not even resolved fortunately, and the tragic and the farcical clash to darkly comic degree, at one point Larry’s property lawyer having a heart attack only feet away from him. The dilemma of attributing misfortune to cosmic coincidence or steadfastly believing in a teleological resolution is one that drives Larry to despair, and which makes for a beguiling conclusion. Michael Stuhlbarg gives a suitably incredulous performance as the everyman continually asking the question ‘why me ?’, and the rest of the cast do a fine job as oblivious colluders and the rabbis with meaningless answers, the first one he visits reminiscent of Paul Dano’s zaniness in There Will Be Blood. One of my favourite and best films of 2009.