A Serious Man (2009)

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—- The Absurd Bystander —-


—Spoilers ahead.

Bird’s Eye View

Run Time: 1h 46 min

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Released: November 2009

A Coen Brothers’ movie is seldom easy to assimilate, and owing to the fact that this particular movie made it to the nominees for the Best Picture award of the 82nd Academy Awards, it deserves a lot more attention, dissection and interpretation, even from amateurs like us.

The movie begins with a quote:

Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you


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The protagonist Larry Gopnik, a Physics professor and a passive inhabitant ponders as he gets the ringside view of multiple events unfolding in his life and struggles to come to terms with the scheme of things.

Being a Physics professor, he confesses to one of his students that even he barely understands whether the Schrödinger’s Cat is alive or dead, it is the mathematics which he can handle; the mathematics being the traditional tools for providing interpretations regarding the exquisite and iterative mysteries of our mundane daily existence. Religion and science are always being seen as the stalwarts of answering the complex problems, but to what degree are they persuasive? The persuasiveness of any template promising us of the eternal satisfaction in this finite period of existence is being put to question here. As the protagonist’s eyes are grappling to unearth a pattern to this irrationality, he sinks further into oblivion; although being a religious man with an attested scientific academic background, Larry struggles like a toddler at the face of the uncertainties, which seem to belittle his faculties of comprehension.

The three Rabbis serve an excellent cinematic medium to provide a lukewarm justification to the ways in which we most amply seek to provide ourselves the solace to deal with the seemingly unjust circumstances. In the end, the silence of the cosmos is reflected in the third and senior-most rabbi who flatly refuses to see the protagonist, but also imparts some of wisdom to his son towards the end. Be a good man, as the third Rabbi tells the boy at his Bar Mitzvah, it is all we can do. As the stoics say, all we have control over is the way we respond to situations.

When all is said and done, we are left with a major existential question: what or rather who is a serious man? One who lives a righteous life, as per the ambit that his religiosity allows, or one who strives for moral correctness and universal justness in the circumstances that he faces. A Serious Man can be one who, knowing how little he can affect the ultimate outcome of things still chooses to tread the path of whatever belief he upholds with sincerity in his heart. While escaping can never be a solution, getting a perspective and accepting, to some extent, the absurdity of the conditions we are thrown into can be a healthy and prudent way of dealing with the here and now. With very little control and the meaninglessness looming over us, how do we counter? Does the Coen Brothers provide us an answer, maybe not? However, do we owe ourselves an answer? Maybe yes.


— Jintu
(mail: jintu@flicksandpages.com)