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Monday, September 12, 2011


jaap mooy, animal, 1951

It's not often that a suburban comedy in film is actually funny. Silly, but seldom funny. Coen Brothers 2009 film, A Serious Man, is indeed funny. It's like a Woody Allen movie with Michael Stuhlbarg playing Woody's character. Fussing and worrying over Judaica in America. This is your average intelligent guy, a physics professor in a time when he's up for tenure. His wife announces she wants to be the wife of a retired prof from the same party set. All at once, everything whirls around his head such that he's come to a place where he doesn't believe what he believes anymore. As he thought things were, turned out not to be the way things were at all. He's a guy who lives in his mind, and the people in his house, wife and 2 kids, amount to people who want money from him and want him to fix things. In a way, they're all drains on him, but their expectations of him count, while it's absurd for him to think of having expectations of them. He's the money guy that fixes things.

Wife, who is nothing but demanding, demands he check into a motel, the Jolly Roger with his brother who is living at the house, "sleeping on the couch." The brother is something of an idiot savant, who can't take care of himself, working on some grand physics problem that is a notebook in length. But he can't get along in the world. Wife is tired of both of them and sends them packing. She wants to be connected with an old retired PhD who reeks of PhDness, Sy Abelman. He's an excellent cliche. Wherever our man goes to talk to someone of his situation, lawyer and rabbi, they exclaim, "Sy Abelman?" same as he did when wife told him. There comes a time Sy gets killed in a car wreck, then wife doesn't want the divorce anymore. Turns out Abelman was the cause of the upset in friend's life that was going along more or less smoothly until the beginning of the movie when nothing is as it seems. Turns out Abelman was writing anonymous letters to the tenure committee recommending our man not get his tenure. While pretending to be his friend, Abelman has set out to destroy him just to watch him squirm. Shooting Schrodinger's cat.

I don't know what kind of reviews this film got when it was new 2 years ago. It's definitely not made for boxoffice, and reviewers were as much ignored in the making as the boxoffice. Coen Brothers set out to make a good film and as far as I can tell they succeeded. Succeeded like Woody Allen. Not much audience, but enough to pay for the film expenses. Like Allen, the Coen Brothers make good films that bypass average-mind without a concession. I can't imagine reviewers or average audiences liking this film at all. It's cleverness is subtle and easily missed. It's genius is disguised. It plays with the notion that what appears to be the case in everyday life isn't necessarily the case. In class, he's talking about the formula having to do with Schroedinger's cat. Is it living or is it dead? Is it as it appears or is it not as it appears? These are the questions he's dealing with when his world goes upside down. It looks like his confusion over what's happening around him has more to do with what's happening inside him. It's like his outside world imitates his inside world.

He confessed to a student he didn't understand the issue of Schrodinger's cat. In like manner, he didn't understand what was happening in his life. His greatest issue he went from rabbi to rabbi and lawyers to querry, had to do with needing answers. Why did God (he uses a different Hebrew name) give him a questioning mind if there are no answers? Everyone is telling him there are no answers to his questions. Just leave them alone and they'll go away. That's not a satisfactory answer for him, and he goes on looking without finding. It's a Woody Allen dilemma. Allen does it in New York, this story does it in a Minneapolis suburb and the Jewish community there. This movie came into my house one day. I took for maybe a somewhat above average film that turned out to be a genius film. It doesn't have a chance to be a popular film because it's not about who's fucking whom.

The story of a man who's world goes awry for a period of time that he can't understand, the same as he doesn't understand the physics knowledge of the time, physics problems actually being the real world of his mind. His big physics question took a turn in his life and really blew his mind. I'm thinking his idiot savant brother obsessed with math and physics problems is there to represent our man's own mind that isn't very closely connected to the world he lives in; the son who wants better televsion reception, the daughter who wants money, the wife who wants another husband. Then there's the inner circle of his Jewish culture that is with him when he's out in the world of others who are not Jews, where he's a tiny minority.

The Coen Brothers most recent film, True Grit, seemed to have more going on in it than the boring suburban life in A Serious Man, exotic Western, riding horses, shooting guns, kill or be killed. A Serious Man had no guns in it, according to my memory. Yes it did. In a dream scene. That's another thing, the dreams. You'd go into a dream just like a scene in the story, then it takes a strange twist and he wakes up from a dream. The viewer is relieved it's a dream as much as the dreamer. Like a Woody Allen film, I found it never boring for even a second, though I have an idea I live in a world of people who would find it boring and not funny at all. The message in the film is that it's all in how you see it. We create it as we see it. It's not often a movie comes along that tells the story of someone creating his outer world by what's going on in his mind. I have a feeling that's how it works all the time anyway.


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