A Serious Man (2009) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern physics teacher, watches his life unravel over multiple sudden incidents. Though seeking meaning and answers amidst his turmoils, he seems to keep sinking.

  • Bloomington, Minnesota, 1967: Jewish physics lecturer Larry Gopnik is a serious and a very put-upon man. His daughter is stealing from him to save up for a nose job, his pot-head son, who gets stoned at his own bar-mitzvah, only wants him round to fix the TV aerial and his useless brother Arthur is an unwelcome house guest. But both Arthur and Larry get turfed out into a motel when Larry's wife Judy, who wants a divorce, moves her lover, Sy, into the house and even after Sy's death in a car crash they are still there. With lawyers' bills mounting for his divorce, Arthur's criminal court appearances and a land feud with a neighbour Larry is tempted to take the bribe offered by a student to give him an illegal exam pass mark. And the rabbis he visits for advice only dole out platitudes. Still God moves in mysterious - and not always pleasant - ways, as Larry and his family will find out.

  • 1967. Mild-mannered Larry Gopnik, living in suburban Minneapolis with his wife Judith and their two children, teenaged Sarah and preteen Danny, is a Physics professor at a local college. Larry lets life wash over him, especially as it has not placed any major bumps yet along the way, with a few upcoming perks being that he is on a tenure track, the decision to be made soon, the deliberation by the tenure committee which he is assured is only a formality, and Danny will soon have his bar mitzvah. Minor bumps include Sarah and Danny constantly being at each other's throats, especially about money, all three of his family members treating him more as a fixture than a husband or father, and his unemployed mathematician brother Arthur living with them in their already crowded house, he sleeping on their sofa. What Larry does not know about his life is that Danny is more interested in listening to Jefferson Airplane and smoking weed than he is in his Hebrew studies for the bar mitzvah. Larry believes that his Jewish faith will keep him safe. However, things slowly start to fall off the rails for Larry. Judith asks for a divorce in falling in love with a mutual friend, effete widower Sy Ableman. Judith, in the process, wants proverbially everything in the settlement, leaving Larry in a financial bind. Larry is having problems with a South Korean exchange student named Clive, who may or may not be bribing him for a passing grade, which becomes more clear as time goes on. Although he is further assured that they are not an issue, he learns that someone is sending poison pen letters about him to the tenure committee, most probably Clive in what seems to be his campaign to get a good grade or else. Their neighbor, Brandt, is slowly encroaching on their property. Someone has signed him up with the Columbia House record club, they who are hounding him for payment for records he has never received. And Arthur get into some problems with the law. One distraction are his new neighbors, the Samskys, voluptuous Mrs. Samsky who has a penchant for sunbathing nude in their back yard. In the process, Larry looks for some answers to all these problems, especially from his faith. He wants to speak most specifically to Rabbi Marshak, the senior rabbi at his synagogue who is now more a figurehead than practicing rabbi. As such, even trying to see Rabbi Marshak, let alone speak to him, is more difficult than just wanting it to happen.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.



    The day of Danny Gopnick's bar mitzvah arrives. As he goes to read from the Torah, his mind freezes and he stands as if in a trance. He looks at his family, and back down at the Torah. All at once he comes into focus and begins chanting from the Torah flawlessly. As parents Larry and Judith watch proudly, they start to hold hands and arms, as if beginning to reconnect. Judith suddenly tells Larry that Sy always admired Larry very much, and secretly wrote letters of recommendation on Larry's behalf, to the college tenure board.

    At the completion of the ceremony, Danny is told about the rights and duties of being a full member of the community and the synagogue. He is given a kiddush cup and told that he has been granted an audience with Rabbi Marshak.

    Danny goes into Marshak's office, and sits in front of him. Marshak speaks slowly, almost haltingly, and in a way that suggests he's a little addled. He begins to quote lines from Jefferson Airplane's 'Somebody to Love' (not quite accurately) and recites the names of the group's members (again, not quite accurately). He then gives Danny back his confiscated radio and simply says, "Be a good boy."

    The scene begins to switch back and forth at this point between Larry at his office in the college, and Danny at Hebrew school. Arlen visits Larry at his office, congratulating him on Danny's bar mitzvah and speaking about the need to savor such moments of family blessings, with which Larry agrees and promises to do. Carefully emphasizing that he is speaking off the record and didn't actually 'say anything,' Arlen insinuates that Larry has earned tenure at the college.

    We then see Danny listening to the radio through his earphones, discreetly goofing off during Hebrew class again. He sees that the $20 he secreted in the radio's leather belt pouch to pay for the pot sold him by Mike Fagle, is still there. He tries to carefully whisper to Fagle, whose seat is in front of him.

    Larry opens some of his mail and one of the letters is a legal bill for $3,000.00. Going to his grade book, he stares at the F given to Clive Park, and after some thought, changes it to a C minus. Abruptly his phone rings.

    Back at Hebrew school, a principal's aide enters and whispers to the teacher, who announces that a tornado warning has sounded and all students are to be ushered into the synagogue basement.

    Larry answers his phone and it's Dr. Shapiro, who congratulates Larry on Danny's bar mitzvah but then suddenly announces he wants Larry to come into his office to discuss the results of his X-Ray, which Larry was shown getting near the beginning of the movie.

    Back at Hebrew school, the kids are all waiting in the parking lot as the teacher fumbles with his keys. Wind is picking up and the teacher can't seem to pick out the correct key to open the door to the basement.

    Back at Larry's office, Larry asks if he can talk on the phone about the X-Ray results, but Dr. Shapiro feels it would be best done in person. Larry asks when, and Dr. Shapiro says now; he's set some time aside for Larry to come to his office right away. It's suggested strongly that Larry is seriously ill; possibly even terminally.

    Prior to this, Larry's wife informed told him she wants a divorce and moves her new partner, the condescending Sy, into their home. Larry is farmed out to a motel with his ne'er-do-well brother, Arthur.

    The final scene is back at the Hebrew school. Danny sees Mike Fagle standing in front of him and calls out to him, looking to give him the $20 he owes him. Suddenly Fagle turns around and stares over his shoulder at Danny, and Danny freezes on seeing what Fagle had been looking at: a funnel cloud heading straight toward the school... and all the kids, as the teacher is still unable to locate the correct key to the basement.

    Fade to black as 'Somebody to Love' by Jefferson Airplane begins to play.

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