From watching “A Serious Man”, it’s safe to conclude the Coen brothers do not have fond memories of growing up in the Jewish suburbs of Minneapolis. You were expecting nostalgia maybe from the directors of dark and devious films such as “No Country for Old Men”, “Fargo”, “Blood Simple” and “Barton Fink“?
Autobiographical only in the sense that the milieu is replicated from memory, “A Serious Man” is otherwise entirely fictitious, although not exactly original. Actually, it is the biblical story of Job transplanted to 1967 Minnesota when the times they were a’changin.
The disturbing film owes as much to David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” as it does to Isaac Bashevis Singer. In the Coens’ crazy cinematic cosmos, the Jewish experience is defined by suffering. In this unhappy place and time, Hebrew school is a boring waste of time. Rabbis are revered for their wisdom but in reality dispense pitiful, enigmatic platitudes. Parents are barely in control of their lives. Children are terrible disappointments. Adults are shmendricks and schmucks. And the universe is an unfathomable series of mysteries.
The pitch-black comedy about a physics professor living a cursed life expresses Woody Allen’s famous Jewish existential summation, “Life is filled with pain and suffering and misery and it’s all over much too quickly.”
The Coens’ penchant for emotional detachment does not serve them as well with this story as it has with many of their brilliant stylistic works, but “A Serious Man” is a wicked and serious satire well worth seeing. Just be prepared to embrace the mystery.