A continuing series of brief reflections about the Best Picture nominations...
A Serious Man is the third in what I've deemed the Coens' "Trilogy of Ir-resolution" - along with No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading, it's a movie about how we WATCH movies, what we expect out of them, and they represent the Coens' variations on how to mess with traditional narrative form.
It's blacker than black, one of the most shamelessly misanthropic films ever made. Somewhere between a cultural autobiography and a recasting of the Book of Job, they've rooted around their own culture of late-60s Jewish suburbia to expose deep-seated anxieties, religious paradoxes, and personal woes. They've also made one of their quietest, most subdued films. On the one hand, it's as troubling as "The Man Who Wasn't There," and yet without that film's excess. On another, it's more like something from their early-90s period; eccentric yet restrained. Everything hides just below the surface.
A Serious Man is so lethal because it's so unsuspecting. This is the Coens firing on their most potent cylinders. Michael Stuhlbarg is revelatory, and plays their tortured victim with such reposed seriousness. While the Coens usually like to cinematic structure and form as a way to jump into deeper waters about various time periods, here they've taken a lone character study and thrown together cultural and religious politics into a searing blend.
And that ending...that gives us every answer and yet no answer. It makes us want more, and yet, why would we want to see any more of this? The Coens are gods, for they are filmmakers. Films are their worlds. A Serious Man is their craft at its peak.
For Your Consideration - A Serious Man