Set in 1967 in Minneapolis, USA, A Serious Man is a deliciously dark comedy from the Coen brothers. It follows college professor Larry Gopnik, as his comfortable suburban existence is thrown into chaos, both at work and at home. His wife renounces him, his son is busy smoking pot and getting into trouble, and his daughter is secretly saving up for plastic surgery. On top of that, his forthcoming tenure at the college is being threatened by anonymous letters to the school board, speaking ill of him, and his wife and her new partner want to live in his house, so he ends up living in a motel with his eccentric brother.
Basically, his life rapidly turns to shit, and he turns to his faith for answers, but is frustrated in his attempts to have a meeting with the head rabbi. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry to perfection, giving us a man who’s clearly at breaking point, but is so bound by his conscience and regard for social properness that he doesn’t have the nerve to actually snap. Instead, he winds himself up into a tight ball of anxiety, as life continues to rain blows upon him, while he simply wonders ‘why me?’
Watching Larry’s life unravel is undoubtedly entertaining, but what’s interesting about A Serious Man is that when you think you know where it’s going, you find it doesn’t actually go anywhere. More straightforward comedies would feature some clear-cut turning point, at which the hero regains control of his life, but watching A Serious Man is like riding a rollercoaster in the dark – you can feel the twists and turns, but there’s no way of knowing what’s coming next and when it’s going to stop.
When the movie does finally, and rather abruptly, end, you’re left as nonplussed as Larry is. Like Larry, you might be searching for meaning, but the only conclusion is that perhaps there is none.
However, that’s just one element of the movie, and, indeed, it has many layers that you sit around and analyse all day, but aside from that, it’s just a very entertaining tale, which at times is very funny. In particular, Fred Melamed turns in a brilliantly creepy performance as the overly familiar love rival, Sy Ableman. No verbal explanation could ever do justice to this character, so you’ll just have to watch it yourself to see.
To do so, it’ll cost you £10.99 from iTunes, which isn’t bad for a film of this calibre, but there don’t appear to be any extras. If you’re watching it on the move, you won’t be losing anything by playing it on a small screen; there are subtitles in the prologue, but the display ratio is different for that part of the movie, so you can zoom in without missing text on the sides.
If you’d rather not pay so much to see it, you can rent A Serious Man from 14th April.
A Serious Man is available from the iTunes store.