Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 12:26 am
In Serious Man, glass is half empty
Though they’ve denied being nihilists in many interviews, the work of Joel and Ethan Coen makes clear that they are. With No Country for Old Men, Fargo and The Man Who Wasn’t There on their filmography, there’s no doubt these are “glass-half-empty” kinda guys. Their latest, A Serious Man, finds the Coens delving once more into their familiar dark themes. Though the film is labeled a comedy, it is of the darkest sort.
To say that Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is being tested is an understatement akin to calling the Grand Canyon a big hole in the ground. His wife is leaving him, his children are strangers to him, his upcoming promotion at the university where he teaches is in jeopardy, he’s being blackmailed by a student over perceived grade improprieties and his brother Arthur, who lives with his family, is wanted by the feds. Oh, and he’s being harassed by the Columbia Records Club over monthly selections that have been mistakenly sent to him. Is it any wonder he’s starting to think that God has forsaken him?
The question of God’s existence and what makes the universe tick has been at the core of all of the Coens’ films, but never so obviously as it is here. Larry is Job, tested by forces he cannot understand. As each nightmare befalls him, he becomes an Everyman we can all relate to. Stuhlbarg holds the film together, gradually unraveling as he desperately tries to maintain a bit of control in the face of chaos. He has our sympathy from the start as the Coens put poor Larry through his paces. In witnessing his trial, we realize there are no real answers to our woes. All we can hope for is the grace to endure them.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.