24 November 2009

Thoughts On: A Serious Man

The Coen Brothers don't always entertain me in the way I want them to, but, man, they always get to me. They always have me nodding my head.
(Figuratively. I don't actually sit in the theatre, nodding.)  

A Serious Man is not going to get a whole lot of re-plays in my DVD player, but it definitely made an impression. Burn After Reading just tried too hard. Then again, so did the critically gushed-over No Country For Old Men, but in a different way. 

A Serious Man is the Coen Brothers's most effortless film in some while. One gets the sense they were jazzed while making it, even though they knew its general appeal would be lacking. The movie exists in a safe (though not very commercial) middle-ground between the goofy farce of Burn and the harsh dramatic grind of No Country. The movie defies categorization. I think that's one of the reasons people just keep referring to A Serious Man as their "Jewish film". 

It's not a straight-up comedy. It's not a straight-up anything. Philosophically, the film is the summation of those two earlier pictures I mentioned. Differences in tone and intent to the side, Burn After Reading and No Country For Old Men were similarly bleak films. They were also similarly open-ended. By and large I get the feeling that audiences left them feeling a little cheated. 
Coulda use a FEW more laughs... and not "Robin Williams laughs", real ones...

A Serious Man is just as relentless as No Country and just as daffy as Burn After Reading. It leaves you exactly zero time to breathe. What it says is not comforting: there are no answers to be had in this world. 

Not enough films pander to the lyrical nihilist in me.  

The movie also has one of the coolest last shots I've ever seen. In fact, afew seconds after the film had gone to black, I realized I was holding my breath. The shot--of an approaching tornado--says more in the film's last few seconds than all the Tommie Lee Jones monologues ever drawled onto celluloid. 
"Once, when I was in band camp..."