I’ve written and scrapped and written and scrapped a half-dozen
reviews of this film. I’ve considered that maybe I need to go back and
watch it again, and only then will I be able to grasp it. I’ve been
thinking about this thing all weekend, and I’ve come to the conclusion
that while I can’t wait to see it again, in terms of writing a review,
I have what I have, and that’ll have to be good enough.

TRULY discuss the film, I’d need to dive massively into spoilers, and
nearly all of the review would in some way deal with the ending. But
I’m a good person, I won’t do that. I will say that the film often
mentions the idea of parables, the idea that you can tell a story about
someone you’ve never met, whose name you don’t even know, who lives
through an exceptional circumstance that he learns a great deal from,
but this concept can sometimes be difficult to apply to your own life.
There’s a whole scene in the film that says just that.

Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a physics professor who, early in the
film, uses the parable of Schrödinger’s cat to explain concepts to his
students, but he admits that he has no idea what the story of the cat
means or really its exact application. It’s an offhand remark, but it
goes a long way towards what the Coens are getting at.

will also say that the Coens have, in my opinion, never made a
completely serious film. As much as I despise the age of irony we’ve
found ourselves in, the Coens use irony to make their work lighter and
deeper at the same time. The films remain essentially unknowable; they
keep a distance from their characters that many have tried to label as
contempt. Whether or not that’s true (I don’t think it really matters),
the result has been a body of work that can be seen many different
ways, but is ALWAYS entertaining.

A Serious Man is, in my estimation, their best work since Barton Fink,
because it is totally serious and completely dedicated to not giving
away anything, remaining totally entertaining and involving while doing
so, and perhaps even adding up to their greatest joke yet. Fargo,
their 1996 film, opens with a statement that the film is based on a
true story, a claim they maintained for some time after its release
before admitting that they just tacked it on there, almost on a whim.
I’ve always thought this artistic flourish, and the way they’ve
explained/dismissed it says more about their body of work than anything
else. Whatever they present us is complete fiction, and any application
to the real world you try to give it will come up empty. And,
somewhere, Joel and Ethan Coen are laughing.

through the film, things are looking pretty bleak, and Larry explains
the uncertainty principle to a class full of college kids. According to
Wikipedia (I am not a quantum physicist, for what it’s worth), the
uncertainty principle “states that certain pairs of physical
properties, like position and momentum, cannot both be known to
arbitrary precision. That is, the more precisely one property is known,
the less precisely the other can be known…[it] is not a statement about
the limitations of a researcher’s ability to measure particular
quantities of a system, it is a statement about the nature of the
system itself as described by the equations of quantum mechanics.”

does it all mean? Why does it open with a prologue that has no direct
bearing on the rest of the film? You might as well ask what was in
Barton’s box. Or where Chigurh went after Ed Tom busted into the motel
room. In discussing Barton Fink, Ethan said, “What isn’t
crystal clear isn’t intended to become crystal clear, and it’s fine to
leave it at that,” to which Joel followed up, “The question is: Where
would it get you if something that’s a little bit ambiguous in the
movie is made clear? It doesn’t get you anywhere.”


Discuss this here.