Movie Review: A Serious Man (Michael Stuhlbarg. Richard Kind Adam Arkin) 2009

Posted: November 25, 2012 in Drama


It’s 1967 and Larry Gopnik’s (Stuhlbarg) peaceful ,stable world is starting to unravel, he’s a physics professor in a local college, and he’s happiest when writing mathematical proofs, but suddenly the tenure he seemed so sure of is eluding him, and a Korean grad student named Clive (David Kang) is trying to bribe Larry to pass him.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Larry’s wife Judith (Siri Lennick) is having an affair with Larry’s acquaintance Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed.)  Larry’s brother Arthur (Kind) is writing a mathematical proof about the random nature of everything.  Arthur is also getting arrested for gambling and frequenting a gay bar. Larry’s son, Danny (Aaron Wolff) brings him no joy. Danny’s too busy trying to score twenty dollars to buy a joint from high school bully Arlen Finkel (Ari Hoptman) When he’s not doing that, Danny joins the Columbia record club without his dad’s knowledge.  Danny should be studying for his Bar Mitzvah, but he’s more interested in listening to Jefferson Airplane than becoming a man.

Larry is tempted by a lovely neighbor Mrs. Samsky  (Amy Landecker) but he doesn’t act on his lustful desires, instead he ties to see three rabbis to find out where his life has gone horribly wrong.  The first rabbi is a minister filling in for a rabbi, and the second rabbi tells Larry a tale about a Jewish dentist that sounds profound but leads nowhere.  Finally, Larry’s divorce lawyer(Arkin)  tells him to see a third rabbi, intimating he’s the best of the lot.  What happens when Larry tries to see Rabbi Marshak? Does his life start to turn around?

This movie is supposed to be based on the Old Testament book of Job, but other than a seemingly innocent man watching his life come undone, while never questioning God’s will, this story bears little resemblance to Job’s story, Job’s wife never left him, Job’s children were killed, and Job has at least three friends who stick with him throughout his travails.  This is actually more like Job in reverse motion.  The story is further muddied by Larry’s dreams being interspersed with his real life, it’s really hard to tell his real life from his dream life at times.  There is a really confusing intro to this film, a 19th century couple letting a dybukk, a wandering Jewish spirit into their house, and the wife killing the dybukk.  I thought the wife was somehow related to Larry, accounting for his bad luck, but the fable is apparently random. The acting is fine, Stulbarg is often funny as the put upon Larry, watching his life crumble around him, Kind is sweetly manic as Arthur, but this movie is neither funny enough nor serious enough to qualify as drama or comedy.

A Serious Man.  Seriously Lacking.





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