By Chase Kahn
My Saturday was full of football, driving and a back-to-back Friday-to-Saturday double-viewing of The Coen Brother's A Serious Man, easily the most fully realized and expertly crafted film of the last two years, really. I doubt Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon or Lone Scherfig's An Education could top it, but I'd be willing to find out.
On the surface, it's a sly, dry black comedy about a guy who can't catch a break, with the Coen's usual affinity for full-on wayward geographical immersion and cultural typecasting. But underneath, this is a scathing, black-hearted takedown of the passive, noncombatant followers to the philosophical fundamentals of faith, destiny and truth.
It's a fable, or illustrative tool, used to heighten, dramatize and question the metaphysical motives for hardship, tragedy and everyday fatigue. It's subject, Larry (Michael Stuhlburg), a harmless everyman father and husband, endures a cavalcade of godly interventions and seemingly insurmountable roadblocks, sending him scrambling for just cause, heavenly refuge, and more importantly, for answers. The Coens (and Hashem) are hardly forthcoming in their revelations.
A Serious Man just operates on such a level of thorough assuredness that's uncanny even for a Coen Brothers film. It frequently resonates louder and more honestly than the eerily similar philosophical yarn in No Country For Old Men - a superb film in its own right.
Any film that's able to pick out a faith-loving, "rest easy" punching bag and give it about ten good bloody-knuckle uppercuts, followed by a roundhouse kick, and does it in a generally humorous and surgical way, deserves my utmost respect.
It's about what happens when the cards are stacked against you with no outlet in sight and what it all means - how to interpret it. "Why me?", the film asks, just before it slaps you on the wrist for even asking.