Sunday, November 08, 2009

Playing Catch-up [part 1]

A Serious Man

I've fallen behind on writing about the films I'm seeing and I place the blame directly on Ethan and Joel Coen. It has been a good, long time since I've seen a film that I disliked so much that I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Usually, I reserve this pleasure for films by Haneke and Lars Von Trier, but something about A Serious Man has seriously gotten under my skin and I'm having trouble shaking it.

Larry Gopnik's (Michael Stuhlbarg) life is unraveling. His wife is leaving him, a student is attempting to bribe him, his brother has moved in, he's getting calls demanding payment for a record subscription that he knows nothing about, and he is up for tenure. And Larry wants to know why these things are happening to him and is seeking council from the rabbi. In A Serious Man, Larry is under attack from all sides and needs to understand why. Perhaps my biggest problem with A Serious Man was a complete failure to find humor in this black comedy. This film seemed more like a morality tale, or tragedy, than a black comedy. Last year's Burn After Reading was equally dark, but induced laughter that I couldn’t find in A Serious Man. Not only didn’t I find anything about Larry Gopnik’s circumstances funny, but I’m wrestling with the message of this film.

Basically, it appears that all of Larry’s problems stem from his unwillingness to act. He protests throughout the movie that he has done nothing to deserve mistreatment by the universe at large, so why is God punishing him? This could easily be read as another telling of the story of Job; that Larry has in fact done nothing to incite God’s rage.

Or is he in fact being punished for his inaction? This might be what I find irritating about A Serious Man, is this notion that the majority of Larry Gopnick's problems stem from not doing anything. And I can see why Ethan and Joel might decide to run a character through the ringer for repeatedly coming up with perfectly rational reasons to not act on his whims, desires, or really anything, but I just didn't find it enjoyable to watch and often A Serious Man was uncomfortable. This might be because it left me with a nagging question. What does it mean in life to do something? And I found myself awake in the middle of the night more than once in the weeks after wondering if my life was not too dissimilar from Larry's. At least, I am aware of a few desires that I would dearly love to act on, but I can also compose a lengthy list of very good reasons not to. But really, the biggest thing that impedes me is the simple fact that is is so much easier to do nothing.

So I guess I cannot make any claims that A Serious Man was not provocative, just not as enjoyable as what I had hoped after seeing the trailer. In fact, the trailer may be a much more exciting piece of filmmaking than the movie.



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