3 October 2009 | Blade_Le_Flambeur
Abstract and solid
A Serious Man, the Coen Bros new film, is different from what has come before it. Many will inevitably try to compare the numerous dream sequences to the surrealism and (Jewish) neuroticsm prevalent in Barton Fink. Others how the film beats up the character as the Coens did in the recent Burn After Reading, practically patronizing how shallow and often stupid they are. Yet the film is also filled with a great amount of warmth and despite the jolt the ending has-I think ultimately is a film about coping.
A plot summary doesn't do much to describe the film which is separated into a prologue set in Poland in Yiddish then chapter headings that show when the protagonist seeks out three main rabis. As his troubles compound the situations become increasingly bizarre and humorous. The humor feels more universal than, say, Burn After Reading. Particularly in the insulation of these characters as most, if not all scenes, take place from Larry's perspective. His unorthodox and uptight American neighbors, a Korean student of his, etc. all have very funny interactions with Larry that the audience enjoys. His inability to really deal with his surroundings and his timid nature are played for great comedy.
It's hard to effectively write up about the film's merits as it is so abstract. Audience opinion is likely to be divided as this does not conveniently fit into the Coens cannon. There is no ransom plot, no bursts of sudden violence and no major stars who make fools of themselves. Instead the film is tightly constructed by trying to convey the atmosphere of living and dealing in this time and place. The ambiance of the film is perhaps its strongest and weakest element. Since it relies so much on mood and texture, it's hard to do a full critical analysis. Many will differ in their response to the significance of the ending or the significance to the film on the whole. Personally I recommend it.