|A Serious Man|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joel Coen and Ethan Coen|
|Produced by||Ethan Coen and Joel Coen|
|Written by||Ethan Coen and Joel Coen|
Sari Wagner Lennick
|Music by||Carter Burwell|
|Editing by||Roderick Jaynes|
Working Title Films
Mike Zoss Productions
|Distributed by||Focus Features|
|Release date(s)||October 2, 2009 (limited)|
|Running time||106 minutes|
|Language||English, Hebrew, Yiddish|
A Serious Man is a 2009 black comedy film written, produced, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The film stars Michael Stuhlbarg, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed, and Richard Kind and tells the story of an ordinary man who is trying to find balance and understanding in the world, loosely based on the story of Job. The film has attracted a highly positive critical response, including a Golden Globe nomination for Stuhlbarg, a place on both the American Film Institute's and National Board of Review's Top 10 Film Lists of 2009, and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
In a prologue set in the early 20th century, in a Polish shtetl, a Jewish man named Velvel comes home during a snowstorm and tells his wife that he had been helped along his way by an acquaintance of hers, Reb Groshkover (Fyvush Finkel), whom he has invited in for soup. The wife informs him that Reb had died three years prior, and that this visitor must be a dybbuk, an undead being of Jewish folklore. The guest laughs off this suggestion, but eventually she stabs the visitor, and he goes back out to the snow.
In 1967, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Jewish college professor of physics, lives with his troubled family in the suburbs of Minneapolis – Saint Louis Park, Minnesota. His son Danny habitually smokes marijuana in secret, his daughter Sarah appears to be stealing money from her father to get a nose job, his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) wants a divorce and a "get" so she can be with family friend and widower, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), and his brother Arthur (Richard Kind) has been crashing on their couch for several months writing a dense numerological treatise. At Judith and Sy's insistence, Larry and Arthur move to a nearby motel, after which Judith empties their joint financial accounts, leaving Larry penniless. Despite the fact that he has moved out of the house, Larry continues to deal with the problems he had while living there, including a property dispute with the next-door neighbor, and his son's obsessive demand that Larry fix the television antennae so that Danny can watch F Troop.
In the meantime, one of Larry's students, Clive, claims his exams are unfair since he was unaware of their mathematical content. After he leaves, Larry finds an envelope stuffed with thousands of dollars, and is furious that Clive would try to bribe him. Clive's father tries to trap Larry in a dilemma, threatening to sue him for accepting bribes if Larry keeps the money, but also threatening to sue him for slander if he turns Clive in. Larry is up for tenure, but the committee has received anonymous defamatory letters about him. Soon after, Sy is killed in a car accident. Larry is saddled with the funeral expenses, as Sy's estate immediately enters probate.
Larry then dreams of himself teaching in a classroom. He just finishes a long physics equation and dismisses the class when he sees the deceased Sy Abelman sitting in in front of him. Sy stands and says to Larry that he is a serious man. Suddenly, Sy is next to him. Sy gives him some chilling advice then beats him to the ground.
Larry also dreams of Arthur and himself on the banks of a river. He gives his brother the money in the envelope from Clive. Arthur then gets in a canoe and begins to paddle off when he gets shot by Larry's neighbors. They then point the gun at Larry before he wakes up.
A friend at a picnic (Katherine Borowitz) insists that Larry seek advice from three rabbis to cope with his troubles. The first, a very young rabbi (Simon Helberg), fumbles through platitudes about maintaining fresh perspectives in order to see God. For example, he points to a parking lot as inspiration for what Hashem has given him. The second, his regular rabbi (George Wyner), recounts a tale of a Jewish dentist who turned to him for advice after discovering a call for help engraved in Hebrew on the back of an unaware gentile patient's teeth, but the story leaves Larry frustrated after concluding without resolving its central mysteries as to the origin and purpose of the engraved message. The third, Rabbi Marshak, is an elderly senior rabbi and a highly respected figure who no longer does pastoral work. He limits his appearances to congratulating boys completing their bar mitzvahs. Unable to gain an audience with the rabbi after numerous attempts, Larry is finally turned away by his secretary.
Larry's only relieving moment comes when he visits his attractive neighbor Ms. Samsky whose husband "travels a lot." Amongst mounting sexual tension, she offers Larry a marijuana cigarette. The two smoke together and Larry begins to see some truth in the junior Rabbi's advice. However, their moment of drugged tranquility is disrupted by the sound of sirens. Arthur, handcuffed and with policemen, arrives after having been arrested in North Dakota for charges of solicitation and sodomy.
On the day of Danny's bar mitzvah, Danny arrives high on marijuana and initially struggles to complete the ceremony. During the event, Judith expresses regret over the recent strife, and tells Larry that Sy always liked him and even wrote letters to the tenure committee for him. However, it is hinted that these letters may be the very same ones that defamed him since we know they were written in native English and therefore unlikely to be from Larry's disgruntled student. Though still high, after completing the ceremony Danny is taken to Rabbi Marshak's office, where the rabbi quotes a line from Jefferson Airplane's song "Somebody to Love". He then returns a transistor radio that was confiscated from him earlier. Danny is relieved that it still has the $20 tucked into it that he owes to Mike Fagle, a bully in his class who sold him marijuana, because Fagle lives near him and often threatens to beat him to the ground if he doesn't get his money.
Later, Larry's department head (Ari Hoptman) hints that he will be granted tenure. After receiving a $3000 bill from a criminal lawyer he has put on retainer to help his brother, Larry agonizes for a few moments, and then accepts the bribe from Clive's father, as the money in the envelope is enough to cover the legal expenses, and gives the boy a passing grade. Just then, Larry's doctor calls about the results of a chest X-ray he took earlier, implying that the results are not good and asks that Larry immediately come to his office. Meanwhile, a massive tornado is approaching Danny's school. While their teacher is unlocking the storm cellar, Danny tries to pay back Fagle. But before he could finish his sentence, Fagle silences Danny with a look. He then looks back at the coming tornado, closing in on the school.
Open auditions for the roles of Danny and Sarah were held on May 4, 2008, at the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, one of the scheduled shooting locations for the film. Open auditions for the role of Sarah were also held in June 2008 in Chicago, Illinois.
Considerable attention was paid to the setting; it was important to the Coens to find a neighborhood of original-looking suburban rambler homes as they would have appeared in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, in the late 1960s. Locations were scouted in nearby communities Edina, Richfield, Brooklyn Center, and Hopkins before a suitable location was found in Bloomington. The look of the film is partly based on the Brad Zellar book Suburban World: The Norling Photographs, a collection of photographs of Bloomington in the 1950s and 60s.
Longtime collaborator Roger Deakins rejoined the Coen brothers as cinematographer, following his absence from Burn After Reading. This is the tenth film he has worked on with the Coen brothers. Costume designer Mary Zophres returns for her ninth collaboration with the directors.
The Yiddish story that introduces the film was created by the Coen Brothers, as they did not find any folk tales they thought were suitable. They note the story has no developmental relationship to what follows other than to set the tone. One possible interpretation of the faux folk tale at the beginning of the movie is that the couple seen in the folk tale are Larry's ancestors and may through their action toward the Visitor have introduced a curse or a strain of sin into the family tree, as Yiddish folk belief would have construed the story.
Location filming began on September 8, 2008, in Minnesota. An office scene was shot at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. The film also used a set built in the school's library, as well as a small section of the second floor science building hallway. The synagogue is the B'nai Emet Synagogue in St. Louis Park. The Coen brothers also shot some scenes in St. Olaf College's old science building because of its similar period architecture. Filming wrapped on November 6, 2008, after 44 days, ahead of schedule and within budget.
As of February 10, 2010, it has had worldwide gross earnings of $15,090,687 It has received mostly positive reviews from critics, with an aggregate score of 87% from Rotten Tomatoes, based on 173 reviews. Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, rated the film four out of four stars, feeling that it "bears every mark of a labor of love," and Variety's Todd McCarthy commented that "the Coens' filmmaking skills are sharply attentive," and that A Serious Man is "the kind of picture you get to make after you've won an Oscar". Claudia Puig of USA Today writes, "A Serious Man is a wonderfully odd, bleakly comic and thoroughly engrossing film. Underlying the grim humor are serious questions about faith, family, mortality and misfortune." Time critic Richard Corliss describes it as "disquieting" and "haunting." Christy Lemire called it "the Coens' most thoughtful and personal film" and gave it three-and-a-half stars out of four.
The St. Petersburg Times's Steve Persall wrote that it was a retelling of the Jewish biblical story of Job in the modern American era. The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern disliked what he saw as misanthropy in the film, saying that "...their caricatures range from dis-likable through despicable, with not a smidgen of humanity to redeem them." David Denby from The New Yorker enjoyed the look and feel of the film, but found fault with the script and characterization: "A Serious Man, like Burn After Reading, is in their bleak, black, belittling mode, and it's hell to sit through... As a piece of movie-making craft, A Serious Man is fascinating; in every other way, it's intolerable."
|A Serious Man|
Richard Kind holds the Robert Altman Award given to the film "A Serious Man" at the Independent Spirit Awads in Los Angeles on March 5th, 2010.
Photo by Thomas Attila Lewis
Michael Stuhlbarg was awarded the Chapin Virtuoso Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical at the 2009 Satellite Awards. He was also nominated for Best Actor in the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed and Sari Lennick were nominated for a Gotham Award for Best Performance By An Ensemble Cast. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Ellen Chenoweth, Rachel Tenner, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Jessica McManus, Fred Melamed, Michael Stuhlbarg and Aaron Wolff were awarded the Robert Altman Spirit Award by Film Independent, for Excellence in Collaborative Cinematic Achievement by Directors, Casting Directors and an Ensemble Cast. Roger Deakins received the Best Cinematography awards at both the 2009 Hollywood Awards and the 2009 San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards, as well as the Nikola Tesla Award at the Satellite Awards and the Best Cinematography award at the Spirit_Awards. A Serious Man is nominated for a MPSE Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing: Dialogue and ADR in a Feature Film.
Joel and Ethan Coen were awarded Best Original Screenplay at the 2009 National Board of Review Awards and Best Original Screenplay from the National Society of Film Critics Awards 2009, they have been nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay and the BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay. A Serious Man is nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay in the Broadcast Film Critics Association's 15th Annual Critics' Choice Awards, and by the Boston Society of Film Critics, Best Picture by the Chicago Film Critics Association. The film was listed among the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Top 10 Films of 2009, the American Film Institute's Best 10 movies of 2009, Satellite Awards Top 10 Best Films 2009, and the Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Top 10 Films of 2009.
A Serious Man was nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen) and Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards. BBC News called it "one of the less talked about nominees" for Best Picture: they also noted that lead actor Michael Stuhlbarg received his invitation to the ceremony at the last minute.