Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jason Watches A SERIOUS MAN

I've been to two Jewish film festivals this year, and this is the Jewiest movie I've seen in many years (way Jewier than INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, and that was the face of Jewish vengeance).

The Coen brothers might have made the opposite of every other movie they've made before, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlberg) is physics professor in the Minneapolis suburbs in 1967. His son is a stoner who owes pot money to the school bully. His wife wants a divorce so she can shack up with widower Sy Ableman. His brother is an obnoxious house guest with a gross sebaceous cyst that he's constantly draining. And Larry can't get any useful advice from any rabbi. Meanwhile one of his students is failing and bribes/threatens him for a passing grade (then claims a "cultural misunderstanding" because he's Korean). And here's where it becomes the opposite of a Coen brothers movie. He doesn't take the bribe, he doesn't demand anything from his wife, he's not greedy, he just tries to be an upstanding member of society--a serious man. Coen characters are always done in by greed, but for the first time they built a movie about a man who is done in by his lack of greed, his lack of self-interest.

Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of Coen-isms still in the movie. Odd characters, dark humor, and their new trademark, the abrupt, ambiguous ending. But it's like they self-consciously (and I believe the Coen brothers are two of the most self-conscious filmmakers working today) made a movie that counteracts all their previous anti-greed movies. And I don't know what to make of that. But at least I got to wallow in the delicious Jewiness for a couple of hours.

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