Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: A Serious Man

The Set-Up: From its opening frame, A Serious Man—the 2009 film from Joel and Ethan Coen—is about the frustrations of life, of not knowing the unknowable and, more importantly, not minding (not caring isn't the issue as, of course, you care) that you don't know.  

You can fill your personal blackboard with life's equations. You can theorize and formulate about uncertainty (thanks, Dr. Heisenberg) to your head's content, but you're still in the box with Schrödinger's cat.

And no one's getting out alive. That is certain.

The Coen's A Serious Man is a frustrating movie to watch at times. is life.

The Story: The story follows physics prof Larry Gropnick (Michael Stuhlbarg), as he struggles with a life seemingly out of control for no good reason.  As he says, he is a "serious man," yet his wife is leaving him for another man, his stoner son is prepping for his bar mitzvah, his brother (Richard Kind) is living with him as he struggles with his own recipe for madness, one of his students has attempted to bribe him for a higher grade, his tenure is in question...and then there's the result of his X-ray, which we see him getting at the beginning of the film. 

As Larry packs to move to a hotel (his wife's boyfriend will be moving in), he is confronted by the father of the student (played by Stephen Park—the same actor who played Sheriff Marge's lonely classmate in Fargo!) who attempted to bribe him, and in a moment of confusion, mis-communication...and culture clash...kinda nails it.


From off, SARAH projects:
SARAH Dad. Chinese guy.
A middle-aged Korean man, well groomed. He wears a nicely cut suit and a jeweled tie-pin.
MAN Culcha clash.
He bangs his two knuckles together, illustrating.
MAN Culcha clash.
He faces LARRY in the driveway. LARRY's car is half-loaded with open boxes that are haphazardly stuffed with clothing and effects. LARRY is leaning against the hood, arms folded, gazing at the man, unimpressed. 
A long beat. Finally he bestirs himself.
LARRY With all respect, Mr. Park, I don't think it's that.
Mr. Park Yes.
LARRY It would be a culture clash if it...
LARRY ... were the custom in your land to bribe people for grades. 
Mr. Park Yes.
LARRY So-you're saying it is the custom?
Mr. Park No. This is defamation. Grounds for lawsuit. 
LARRY You-let me get this straight-you're threatening to sue me for defaming your son? 
Mr. Park Yes.
LARRY But it would- 
Gar Brandt Is this man bothering you?
Gar Brandt stands on the strip of lawn separating the two neighbors. He is giving Mr. Park a hard stare.
LARRY Is he bothering me? No. We're fine. Thank you, Mr. Brandt. 
Gar Brandt, not entirely convinced, withdraws, glaring at the Korean. LARRY turns back to Mr. Park.
LARRY I, uh. .
LARRY See...
LARRY ...if it were defamation there would have to be someone..
LARRY ...I was defaming him to, or I...all right
LARRY All right, I...let's keep it simple.
LARRY I could pretend the money never appeared. That's...
LARRY ...not defaming anyone. 
Mr. Park Yes. And passing grade.
LARRY Passing grade. 
Mr. Park Yes. 
LARRY Or you'll sue me.
Mr. Park For taking money.
LARRY So... he did leave the money.
Mr. Park This is defamation.
LARRY stares at him.
LARRY Look. It doesn't make sense. Either he left the money...
LARRY ...or he didn't... 
Mr. Park Please. Accept mystery. 
LARRY You can't have it both ways! If 
Mr. Park Why not.
LARRY stares.

A Serious Man

Words by Joel and Ethan Coen 

Pictures by Roger Deakins and Joel and Ethan Coen 

A Serious Man is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Focus Features and Alliance Vivafilm.

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