- It is pretty embarrassing to discover that not a single
Western film critic is courageous enough to tell us what the latest Coen
Brother's film is all about. Those who reviewed A Serious Man inform us
that this film is the Coen Brother's most autobiographical to date, drawing
on their upbringing.
- They assert that A Serious Man is the film many Jewish
fans of the Coen brothers have always wanted them to make. One film critic
also maintains that the film is deftly balancing bright comedy and bitter
darkness. Some critics are genuine enough to confess that it is slightly
- anti-Semitic but for some reason, they all fail to tell
us what the film is about. What is the ideology, philosophy and symbolism
behind it? They are shy of analysing the film's metaphysics, they refrain
from touching its meaning and cowardly avoid pointing to its message.
- To watch the Trailer:
- A Serious Man is a cinematic allegory of Jewish cultural
detachment from nature. It is a masterpiece that elaborates on the abnormalities
of the Jewish tribal existence.
- A Serious Man does not explicitly touch upon issues related
to Israel, Zionism, occupation, organ harvesting or anything distinctly
identified with the Jewish state. It instead reflects on Jewish Diaspora
life, Jewish segregation and the misery of operating within the kosher
tribal template. It is about Jewish alienation both natural and human.
Yet, A Serious Man also portrays a clear message regarding Israel and Zionism,
for Israel is the Jewish state and, in spite of the Zionist promise to
erect a civilised nation, Israel functions as a Jewish ghetto and is subject
to all the symptoms of abnormality conveyed by the Coens.
- The Coen film ends with a chain of scenes initiated by
a tornado alert given during a Hebrew class in a Jewish orthodox school.
The young Bar Mitzvah kids are ordered to evacuate the class immediately.
Next we see the storm rapidly encroaching towards the boys and girls who
are now standing in the open school yard. Paralysed by awe, perplexed they
gaze towards their own inevitable disaster. They stare at it, they are
hopeless on the verge of impotence. Their elder teacher is right behind
them, frantically struggling to find the right key for the synagogue shelter.
The key to life should be in his hands, but he is obviously not going to
find it. At the same cinematic time Larry Gopnik, the protagonist of the
film, receives an urgent call from his doctor, his X-ray diagnosis is back.
Apparently, something is horribly wrong with his body. Prior to the call,
Larry was obviously totally unaware of his affliction and is thrown into
a state of profound shock. Allegorically, this is the meaning of Jewish
detachment and alienation according to the Coens.
- The People of the Book consistently fail to detect when
something is going horribly wrong. They somehow fail to anticipate the
storm that is coming or brace themselves for its devastating impact. They
fail to interpret some minor signs of resentment before it turns into a
tide of hatred. And even when they do manage to notice a rise in antagonism,
they somehow employ the wrong strategy to placate it. As we often read,
Jewish ethnic campaigners and institutions (ADL, AJC, BOD etc') are always
flagging up statistics, they prefer to present numbers of 'anti Semitic'
incidents instead of wondering why these incidents occur in the first place.
- Set in 1967 Minneapolis, no doubt a very significant
year in Jewish history, A Serious Man is a story about one Larry Gopnik,
a Jewish professor of physics and a family man. In a matter of two cinematic
- hours we watch Larry's life collapse. His son Danny,
a Bar Mitzvah boy, habitually smokes marijuana. His wife Judith is dating
another man who is physically no less than repugnant. She wants a divorce,
she orders him to move out of the house. His daughter Sarah appears to
be stealing money from his wallet so she can have a nose job. His brother
Arthur has been crashing on his couch for several months, when he is not
imposing himself he either drains his spinal cyst or lands himself into
trouble with the law.
- Larry is in a total mess, he faces financial ruin, yet
his disastrous life is just a cinematic glimpse into a morbid tribal society
he is inherently associated with.
- The meaning of the above is pretty obvious. Once captured
by Coen's cinematic realm, we bare witness to an outstanding form of alienation.
Larry is totally detached from his surrounding environment. He fails to
notice that his wife is cheating on him. His wife seems to be libidinally
overwhelmed by Sy Ableman, a greasy fat, patronizing stuffed-shirt widower
who hugs those he screws over. Larry's daughter is horrified by the nose
given by her creator and wants a manmade one. Larry's son cannot cope at
all. He spends the best part of his time smoking his brains out while trying
to consume American culture via an incurably fuzzy TV. In Coen's world,
even the television aerial is incapable of picking up on the surrounding
signals. But it isn't just nature Larry fails to cope with.
- Along the film, we follow an evolving ethical saga. Larry
is put under some severe pressure by one of his South Korean students,
who deposits an envelope loaded with cash on his desk to prompt Larry into
granting him a pass mark. Larry is fully aware of the moral complexity.
He clearly realises that he is subject to a bribery attempt. Initially,
Larry is devastated by it all, he grasps that he must report it to the
academic authorities. But as the film evolves, first in a dream he has
and later in reality Larry ends up pocketing the money and passing the
- The dream has a crucial role in the Coen's allegory.
In the dream Larry meets his true nature, his fears, his desires and his
non-ethical self. While in life, Larry is an innocent, castrated, dysfunctional
family man, in his dream he somehow overcomes it all. He makes love to
his friendly, stoned Jewess neighbour. He brings his troubled brother to
the river and fearlessly sends him to Canada in a canoe. In the dream Larry
is ethically corrupted. He donates the bribery money to his brother so
he can have a fresh start. Yet, in the same dream, both he and his brother
are punished immediately. The 'anti-Semite' next-door neighbour hunts them
both with the rifle he normally saves for animals. 'Kill the Jew"
the Goy orders his son. This is when Larry wakes up.
- 'Unconsciousness is the discourse of the other' says
the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. In the dream, Larry is confronted
with his guilt through his Goy neighbour. As soon as Larry accomplishes
his crime, the Goy sees through him and executes him. Rather than just
'being non ethical', it is the fear of 'being caught out being non ethical'
that torments Larry. It is the discourse of the (next door Goy) other that
introduces Larry unconsciously to the sense of guilt.
- A Serious Man opens with a quote taken from Rashi. "Receive
with simplicity everything that happens to you". Rashi is a Medieval
French Rabbi who offers an eloquent interpretation that is rather similar
to the one given by Biblical Job. The Book of Job is seen by most commentators
as an attempt to reconcile evil with the existence of God. Such an attempt
was very common amongst Jews after the Shoa. Jews both religious and orthodox
repeatedly asked, if there is a God out there, how did God let Auschwitz
happen? To a certain extent Larry is asking his local Rabbis a very similar
question: 'What is the Shem (God) trying to tell me?' The Rabbis are left
with no answer to offer. Just like Job and Rashi, they have nothing concrete
to suggest other than 'acceptance'. In Coen's latest film the Rabbis are
there to spin, to convey a pretence of 'logos'. They are there to cover
a 'black hole'. In the Coen's allegory the Rabbis cannot reconcile evil
and God, nor can they explain Jewish suffering. In Coen's film the Rabbis
are there to evoke a false impression of wisdom.
- Interestingly enough, the Coens present an answer of
their own to question to do with Jewish suffering. It has nothing to do
with the Shem, God or Yehovah. It is actually the morbidity inherent in
the Jewish tribal setting that is the root cause of Jewish suffering. While
in the film, it is the Goy neighbour who initially leads Larry to face
his guilt through self contempt, in reality it is the Goy spectator who
is being exposed to Jewish secrecy via the Hollywood big screen. Thanks
to the Coens, we are confronted with that which the Jews would prefer to
disguise. To a certain extent the Coens are adopting the role of the whistleblower.
They bring to light the notion of the Lacanian 'discourse of the other',
the Coen's Jewish tribal cinematic reality is the Jewish unconsciousness.
It is that which the Jews are far from being proud of. It would be intelligible
to argue that, like Al Jazeera and Press TV who transmitted the true Israeli
brutality throughout Operation Cast Lead, the Coens are exposing the Jewish
Ghetto malaise to an audience of millions.
- The New York Village Voice's film critic Ella Taylor
was rather concerned of the possible anti-Semitic interpretations of the
film. She eloquently described the cinematic reality. "A Serious Man
is crowded with fat Jews, aggressive Jews, passive-aggressive Jews, traitor
Jews, loser Jews, shyster-Jews, emo-Jews, Jews who slurp their chicken
soup, and-passing as sages-a clutch of yellow-teethed, know-nothing rabbis".
We are subject, she continues, to the "visual impact of all these
warty, unappetizing Jews". Taylor is indeed correct. The Coens seem
to have gone to some considerable effort to pick some of the most unpleasing
looking characters around. Taylor is very wary about the film and its current
success. "I worry" she says "about what ancient anxieties
lie behind the endorsement of a movie that dumps on Jews and Judaism with
- It is rather obvious that the Coens are not longing for
their Jewish past in Minneapolis Jewish Ghetto. For a pretty good reason
the film is seen by some as a crude manifestation of self-loathing. Yet,
it is hardly surprising that intelligent and creative assimilated Jews
indulge in self-hatred. History teaches us that the most universally inspiring
Jews, I mean, those who contributed something to humanity rather than merely
to their own people or even just themselves, were motivated by some form
of self hate. The first names that come to mind are Christ, Spinoza and
- In the last two decades, due to Israeli barbarism, an
influx of Jewish lobbying together with a growing opportunity for Jews
to depart from their tribal setting, Jewish self loathing is becoming an
intellectual tide. But it doesn't just stop there, thanks to some great
creative minds that are involved in this emerging discourse; Jewish self
loathing is also a poetic universal and ethical humanist message.
- It is no doubt a great shame that people who are subject
to the Judeo centric tribal setting fail to regard the Coen brother's and
others people's work as an opportunity to self reflect. But in fact, this
is what Coen's film is all about.