Monday, January 18, 2010

A Serious Man

Today I saw A Serious Man, starring Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Kind.

Larry Gopnik (Stuhlbarg) will remind you of every Jewish man you've ever met. Not in a stereotypical way, but in a cultural way.

He seldom feels the need to raise his voice. His appearance is neat and tidy. His wife is bold and controlling. His work and his children and his property mean a lot to him.

Though he appears to be a dedicated husband, father and professor, each part of his world is slowly being dismantled by external forces. His wife is leaving him for his friend, his children are stealing and taking drugs, and a disgruntled student is attempting to sue him because he won't unfairly inflate his grade.

He also has a frightening militant neighbor, a live-in brother (Kind) who is in trouble with the law and difficulty getting an appointment with the sought-after rabbi at his temple. What would bury most men simply piles up in his mind, causing unavoidable nightmares.

I felt sorry for Larry—not just because he didn't appear to deserve all of the bad things that happened to him, but because his meek nature allowed it to continue. He solves most of these problems by throwing money at them (retaining a lawyer, paying for a motel room to sleep in when his wife kicks him out), but at least he's pressing on.

His resolve in the face of adversity is admirable, and though the scenes and situations are undoubtedly comical, it is refreshing to see a main character who doesn't run from his problems or throw things against a wall when things don't go his way.

Stuhlbarg plays the character expertly with quiet intensity. We can feel his tension and pain, but he doesn't burden us with it; it's all kept inside for him to manage. That is partly a credit to the odd, yet solid script from The Coen Brothers. It feels like a screenplay they spent time on, much like The Man Who Wasn't There, and their Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men.

There are many layers to A Serious Man that us viewers don't get to see, but what we do witness is endlessly satisfying. If how we react to things in life defines us, Larry Gopnik serves as a good example of how to deal.

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