Nerdwriter: A Serious Man: Can Life Be Understood?

  • Main character repeats question "What's going on?" throughout the film 

    • ill-fated protagonist of a dark comedy 

    • reflexive and sort of stupid question in response to a series of unfortunate events that tears his quiet suburban life apart without cause 

      • wife demands divorce

      • student tries to blackmail

      • neighbor infringes on property

      • wife's lover dies and he's forced to pay for it

      • brother gets in trouble with law and he pays for that

      • anonymous hate mail 

      • car accident 

      • witnesses death 

      • forced to pay for a record subscription 

        • "I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING!" 

    • Each situations compound and unfold into one another with surgical precision 

    • Each individually illustrative of their own batch of themes 

      • Together they shape out the central message of the movie like an optical illusion that demonstrates closure

  • There is no real closure in A Serious Man nor is there a real shape in the illusion

    • still he seeks it

    • he wants to understand what he's done to deserve such misfortune 

      • character is unaware of what the audience can see clearly: It is his INACTION / constant refrain: "I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING" that causes his problems

        • actions have consequences

        • inaction has consequences too 

  • Larry looks for a way to interpret his suffering rather than accepting it

    • seeks cousel of 3 rabbis

      • 1. A junior Rabbi : lectures Larry on the importance of perspective 

      • 2. Tells a convoluted parable abouta  dentist who finds a message in a patients teeth that never resolves itlself

        • illustrating the inscrutability of God's plan 

      • 3. Elderly wise Rabbi : refuses to see Larry altogether, liberalizing the heavenly silence in the face of big questions that prompted Larry's search for advice in the first place 

  • A lot of what Larry hears are CLICHE'S 

    • i.e. need to change your perspective 

    • many of them are true

      • cliche and parable are two devices that people use to understand what's going on

        • not the only devices the film has to offer

          • music and drugs 

          • a complex probability map of the universe 

          • theories of physics and mathematics ; equations which definitively prove the under riding uncertainty of all things 

  • The film questions the persuasiveness of every interpretative device

    • by placing them side by side and showing how they fail to work together and form any kind of semblance of coherence 

      • The Coens' communicate the real dread of a world that's become unreadable 

        • Take it down to the most basic form of interpertation: language 

          • symbols of hebrew are incomprehensible

          • mumbling 

            • interpretation is how we nail down the world around us; how to secure the storm of the world around us onto fixed points 

              • When these come undone it becomes traumatic, we reach for anything that can orient us, explains the appeal of religion 

  • This criticism of interpretive methods makes us realize we are watching a form of interpretation: A cinematic narrative

    • A film in which every element is ambiguous in which cause and effect--the engine of any narrative--is willfully disregarded, suggests that film and story are plagued by the same problems as all the other devices (despite what hollywood would have you believe) 

  • Opening prologue of the film: A short parable about a Jewish couple of the old country and stab and kill either a good samara tin or a demon ; the prologue's meaning and relationship to the rest of the film are totally nebulous 

    • just enough thematic similarly to prompt interpretation but once you try the only outcome is frustration 

  • Moving the viewer into a headspace like that = masterful craftsmanship 

    • A serious Man is the Coen brother's most profound philosophy : The big philosophical truths about life are devastatingly simple; there is no god, no objective or cosmic purpose for us, everybody suffers, everyone can figure these things out with a small amount of observation, introspection and study 

      • once you do, that dim feeling of disappointment will always be there

        • also relief! the kind of relief you get when you put aside questions that are really just waste of time 

          • better questions can be asked