Just saw A Serious Man at the Cobble Hill Cinemas. I just wanted to quickly offer a corrective to a meme that's floating around most of the reviews of this film most likely because it's embedded in press materials somewhere... A Serious Man really has almost nothing to do with the Book of Job in the Bible. Claiming it does is like claiming that any revenge story involving a son avenging his father's murder is an adaptation of Hamlet.
In The Book of Job, Satan and God make a bet that the Devil cannot turn one of God's most devout followers against him. Satan chooses Job, a wealthy landowner with a large family. God says, essentially, "don't physically hurt him". So Job's land and livelihood and children are taken from him in a series of disasters. He remains devout. Satan asks God for permission to cause Job bodily harm, claiming the game isn't fair. God assents and Job is afflicted with boils. At this point, Job's wife loses faith, tells Job to "curse God and die" and leaves him.
Although Job doesn't lose his faith in God, he loses his faith in the idea of divine justice. He is then visited by three friends who try to convince him that Divine Justice exists and that he must've done something wrong to piss God off. Job rejects this and rails against God. This goes on for awhile. Eventually, God appears in a whirlwind, basically calls Job one presumptuous SOB and says that Job has no right to judge that which he does not understand. Job repents. God restores Job's prosperity and gives him a new family and then goes to Job's friends and says, essentially, "Job was right, there is no divine justice, bad things happen to good people" and fucks off back to heaven.
In A Serious Man, Larry Gopnik (perhaps named after the author of A Cartoon History of the Universe) is a not-particularly-devout-nor-prosperous Jew who goes through some bad stuff (but nothing really on the Job scale), and wants to understand not why the bad stuff is happening to him but rather what he should do about it. These are very different questions. Job knows what he wants to do about it, he becomes a ranting homeless man on a pile of shit and yells about how there's no divine justice. Larry doesn't seek answers so much as guidance. The visit of Job's three friends is unwelcome. Larry seeks out three (not very helpful) rabbis. God appears to Job and restores him. Life just kinda goes on for Larry. There's a couple of references to Job (particularly in the film's final shot) but, other than some thematic similarities, they don't have much to do with each other.
As for the film... I'm not totally sure how I feel about it. It's well made, well shot, well acted, and a movie that no other filmmakers could've delivered. Like all of the Coen's serious films (with the possible exception of No Country for Old Men, due to it being an adaptation) it's a donut, with a giant hole in the middle where things like Meaning and Significance normally are, and in their place is the Coen's nihilism and misanthropy.
What makes A Serious Man a little different is that the movie itself is about a pointless quest for meaning. So, in a way, they've created a structure in which their nihilism and misanthropy are essential to the film.
I have to admit, after two decades of really deeply loving the Coen's films... I'm a bit bored by them now. There's a strange sameness between their movies, not only in the way the camera and (particularly) music are used, but also in world view. It seems that the Coens have on some level not grown as artists or human beings from Blood Simple to A Serious Man. It's a bit like being friends with someone who never changes; eventually, you grow a little tired of their company.
No Country had given me some hope that this had changed. The cutting of all underscoring, the adaptation of someone else's material, the masterful suspense sequences all felt like steps in the right direction. And i still have high hopes for The Yiddish Policeman's Union (in many ways A Serious Man feels like a warm-up for that forthcoming venture), and if I hadn't seen all of the Coen's other movies (except for The Ladykillers) I think I probably would think A Serious Man is a really good movie. And I would've found its nihilism and misanthropy bracing, the way I did the first time I saw Fargo. But honestly, the whole thing left me kinda cold.
What did you all think about it?