Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Serious Man

"These questions that are bothering you, Larry, maybe they're like a toothache. Feel them for a while, then they go away."

Larry Gopnik is a physics professor who explains something to one of his failing students: "You can't really understand the physics without understanding the math... that math tells how it really works, that's the real thing". It's a perspective that makes sense only within the walls of a school. Real life is never as orderly as math.

A Serious Man, the latest movie by the esteemed Coen brothers, continues a theme explored by their previous movie, Burn After Reading. I use the word "theme" almost ironically here, as the point of that movie was its lack of theme. The difference here is that Larry has had enough of it, enough of the unbearable weight of life's meaninglessness. How does one make sense of anything when you life your life as a serious man, but nothing seems to add up?

Larry's life is beset by a series of misfortunes and uncanny coincidences. His wife suddenly announces he's leaving him for a family friend. His autistic brother has a run-ins with the law. Both he and his wife's lover have unrelated car accidents in the same day. During a consultation his lawyer drops dead for no reason at all.

Well of course there was a reason for the lawyer dying. It was a heart attack. But did it really have to happen right there? What the heck does it all mean? After watching enough movies you develop a sense of things, and you come to accept that if it happens in the movie it must happen for a reason. That's just the way things flow, and it's comfortable and enjoyable and makes sense. This film doesn't exactly go against the usual movie flow, but aggressively ignores it, until you recognize that the real secret to life is there is no big secret at all.

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