Blu-ray Review: A Serious Man

The Coen brothers’ A Serious Man is the only film review listed on this site I have not given a letter grade (read that here). I won’t even try and venture a guess as to what I would grade this film. The fact of the matter is, I like it. It makes me think and in doing so it is not only entertaining and challenging, it is also welcoming. I’m interested in the characters, I feel for them and can, at times, relate, just as I think many of us can.

As Joel and Ethan Coen admit in the included making-of featurette “Becoming Serious,” this film doesn’t necessarily have a plot. Instead it has an idea as physics professor Larry Gobnick played by Michael Stuhlbarg has hit hard times. His wife wants a divorce, his un-employed brother is sleeping on his couch, his son started a subscription with Columbia House without his permission, his daughter does anything she can to get out of the house and a student and an anonymous letter-writer are threatening his career.

Yeah, things are bad. However, the quote from rabbi Rashi that starts the film offers help: “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.” It’s this line along with Rabbi Nachtner’s quote, “Helping others couldn’t hurt,” and the lyrics to Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” that help us learn from Larry’s misery. As much as the film may be looked at as a question mark by some, I think it all is quite clear, it’s just not wrapped up nice and neat with a tiny bow. To that point the ending shouldn’t be looked at as a moment cut short as much as it is a moment causing you to look back at what you just watched and why the brothers decided to end it that way. The storm is coming and you better find somebody to love… That with everything else the film offers really should allow you easy access to all of this film’s hidden secrets and come up with your own interpretation of this darkly comical and endlessly compelling story of life.

Universal’s Blu-ray presentation of A Serious Man is an excellent transfer, but that really should be expected in this day and age. I would consider it only newsworthy if a new release film didn’t live up to expectations on high-definition. However, for a film set in 1967 centering on the personal life of a physics teacher you wouldn’t necessarily assume it’s one you should consider a Blu-ray must buy. However, with the beautiful cinematography of Roger Deakins at work it’s obvious high definition is the way to go.

I can’t say I expected much from the special features considering we are talking about a film that grossed just over $9 million at the domestic box-office, but the three included features are all worth a once over and will only take up about 35 minutes of your time.

First off, the making of featurette I already mentioned runs 17 minutes long and is about as close to a Coen commentary as you are going to get as the brothers discuss the film more than I expected they would (my expectation being not at all). Next is the featurette titled “Creating 1967,” which runs 14 minutes long and while its title is rather self-explanatory, it’s actually much more interesting than it sounds. Then again, perhaps everything about a Coen brothers movie is more interesting. The final feature is a short explanation of the Hebrew and Yiddish terms used throughout the film, most of which you pretty much understand through their use in the dialogue, but at only three minutes it’s worth a once over.

Overall, this is an easy film to recommend to anyone that has gotten this far in the review. You are obviously interested and if you are willing to let your brain do a little of the work you should be easily satisfied with the brothers’ latest entry.

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