Monday, May 10, 2010

A Serious Man (2009)

"Why does he make us feel the questions if he’s not going to give us any answers?"

Ahh, me. Taking on The Cohen Brothers for my very first iWatch post. Alas, it is the film I have just seen and this little experiment of mine dictates that I write about whatever movie I happen to see whenever I happen to see it. So here goes:

For me, the Cohen brothers are always hit or miss. That may be putting it a little too gently. It’s more love or loathe. No Country for Old Men. Loathe. The Hudsucker Proxy. Love. O Brother, Where Art Thou? Loathe. Barton Fink. Love. Luckily for me, A Serious Man was love.

Most Cohen Brothers dramas leave me with a lingering “whaaat?” This “whaaat?” can be translated a few ways.

1. I can’t believe I wasted my time on that. What are other people seeing that clearly, I am not? (No Country For Old Men)

2. Wow. The Cohen Brothers must be really smart. What do they know about God that I don’t? (A Serious Man)

3. …… (Barton Fink)

Number two is king. A Serious Man didn’t leave me squirming between reality and symbolism, forced to impose my own set of meanings like Barton Fink did. I enjoyed being grounded by its somewhat clear-cut edict of “Questions no Answers.” Our protagonist, Larry, spends the film asking questions. Why is my wife leaving me? What is my brother up to? Will I get tenure? How will I pay for my wrecked car? The question he asks his rabbi, “Why does he make us feel the questions if he’s not going to give us any answers?” is something the audience can ask of The Cohen Brothers. However, unlike the God that Larry wrestles with, The CB don’t leave us completely without answers (although they do leave out quite a few). It’s an interesting way to tell a story. Essentially stating “you don’t get to know all the answers in real life, why should you get to know all the answers in a film?”

My normal response would be BECAUSE IT IS A FILM. But in this case, the light ambiguity is intriguing and not craze inducing.

And, as an aside, the opening scene that depicts a CB created fable is a brilliant short film unto itself.

If you’ve ever liked a Cohen Brothers film, try this one. Unless, of course, you’ve only liked O Brother, Where Art Thou? and it’s simply because you’re old and George Clooney can do no wrong in your eyes.

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