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A Serious Man (2009)
A Serious Film
You may have to be a believer (Jewish or Christian) to like this film, although some secular (at least middle-aged midwestern) Jews and others may find it worthwhile for the period details. It is a modern version of the book of Job, which--of course you remember--contains a prologue in which God and Satan bet on whether Job will remain faithful and Satan then strikes down Job's flocks, children, and health; a series of speeches by three comforters with Job's responses; a speech by Elihu who is unhappy with the advice of the three comforters; the Lord himself answering Job directly out of the whirlwind ('who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?'); a final submissive speech by Job ('I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye see thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes'); and an epilogue in which Job receives more flocks and children (...) than he had before.
The book and the film address what (Christian, at least) theologians call theodicy, or how bad things can happen in the world when God, who supposedly controls everything, is supposedly good. For nonbelievers (if you have any interest in the subject), the best way to think of this is perhaps to ask yourself whether the universe (the Creation) is on balance a good thing ('and God saw that it was good'). If so, then perhaps we somehow have an obligation to live moral lives and (as Jews and Christians think of it) to follow God's law. If not, then perhaps it's every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost.
The Coens' answer, if I understand it correctly, comes out of the whirlwind at the end in the voice of Grace Slick. I personally prefer God's original response with its paean to astrophysics and evolutionary biology--'Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? ... When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? ... Gave you wings and feathers unto the ostrich? Who leaves her eggs in the earth, and warms them in the dust, and forgets that the foot may crust them or that the wild best may break them...; because God has deprived her of wisdom, neither has he imparted to her understanding'--which essentially asserts that Creation is wonderful and a package deal. But the Coens' very different answer, while oddly Christian in emphasis, is fully consistent with both the 1960s zeitgeist and with the midwestern Jewish community that they have so meticulously recreated.
If you like this film, you really need to see it twice. But without giving anything away, if you see it once, be careful to pay attention to (i) the bribe that, like Schroedinger's cat, is alive and dead at the same time and (ii) the whirlwind at the end. This is a great film.
Another Art-House Fraud
Only a fool could consider this art. I expected either something thought-provoking or, as a consolation prize, at least some genuinely erotic sex scenes. No luck on either count. The only redeeming features of this movie are the nature cinematography (which is fine but not that extraordinary) and the fact that the female lead looks like a prettier Patti Smith. The first half, setting up the situation, is also well-acted if rather pretentious (and it is sad to see these performances wasted on this plot). But then the movie gets started and turns out to be a tedious hide-from-the-madman slasher film with no other point whatsoever (unless misogyny is a point). That anyone could take this film seriously is a sad commentary on, well, them.