What movie was that...?

27 December 2009

A Serious Man

directed by the Coen Brothers

Beginning with a subtitled (and Yiddish) prologue about a demon and ending with-well, I won’t give that away, but what I will give up is the conceit that Joel and Ethan Coen have spun yet another remarkable classic from the fabric of faith, desperation and suffering that we call life. Larry Gopnick is a physics professor with a typical family: marriage on the rocks, two slackerish, semi-hostile children and a neighbor who wants to build a tool shed too close to the property line. Yet it just seems to get worse and worse for Larry, and I won’t beat you over the head with the Old Testament parallels and metaphors, but in the Coen tradition, trouble always begets more trouble. Michael Stuhlbarg is astounding as Larry, a man who gets more than his share of bad luck, and Sari Lennick is seriously amazing as Judith, Larry’s serious wife who wants a divorce. The Coens wear you down right alongside Larry in this darkly hilarious two hour head lock of a film, and when it’s over, you are left just as rattled. Carter Burwell’s killer soundtrack works more like another part of dialogue, and Roger Deakins never ceases to amaze with his cinematographic genius. Like another mesmerizing classic, the much overlooked and underappreciated Barton Fink, the Coens explain little and leave you to come to your own conclusions. So, let’s just ask it, already: Why?

Special note: Hats off to sound designer dynamo Craig Berkey and foley artist titan Marko A. Costanzo, the talents responsible for creating such an intricately hypnotic aural web. The end of record sequence, the soul sucking sound of Arthur's cyst pump, and the mesmerizing isolation of specific sounds throughout the film only work to strengthen the film in ways that could not have been imagined by the Coens themselves. Another example of the whole exceeding the sum of its aggregate parts, A Serious Man is a serious achievement, to be sure.

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