Friday, February 19, 2010

A Serious Man

Nice View

A glance at sites with meters, ratings, numerous award nominations and such will entice you into thinking that A Serious Man is an excellent film fulfilling that potential of being so widely appraised. My personal meter with the works of the Coen Brothers is mixed, because it's likely I'm not as intelligent to decipher all the inside-jokes, metaphors and subtexts that are so richly embedded in the films, and watching this in a small theatre here made me realize that I'm clearly not belonging to the demographics that the Coens are targetting – the Jewish community.

Why am I saying this? It's because they had turned up in droves, and had laughed along with plenty of what's going on in the film, and I felt very alone in wondering whether it's me that's not getting exactly what's shown on screen. Touted as being one of their most personal films to date, I would have appreciated if all of the Hebrew portions on screen, such as text on a chalkboard, strange carvings on teeth and the likes, get translated in English, otherwise how the heck would anyone not versed in the language, get a fair chance in enjoying something that the right people get to laugh along, or laugh at?

And something's quite wrong with the very peculiar way to start a film, set centuries ago with a kind man offering someone to come home with him to have soup, only for the wife to chide him that his visitor is already dead, and proves it by sticking an ice pick into him. OK, so I'm guessing what went along after with this scene sticking out without much of a link to events that happen afterwards, but unless you're well versed with some of the Jewish culture and terms used, I'd suggest you go read up an encyclopedia before attempting to watch this film. Remember, everyone's laughing, except you.

Cinematically though, the Coens are doing no wrong. Casting a bunch of relative unknowns was a brilliant move to ensure that we don't get distracted from their story, which I felt the strength laid in its individual parts, rather than the whole sum, in something of a loose modern spin at the biblical story of Job, with Michael Stuhlbarg being the physics professor whose life is suddenly turned upside down, with his brother living in his home indefinitely, his wife leaving him for a smooth talker, his son a marijuana addict, his daughter swears constantly and desires a nose job, and in his professional life faced with a bribe and a threat of defamation from a Korean student, and a slew of anonymous poison pen letters threatening to stagnate his career.

All these you can appreciate its dark comedic moments, but for that level of depth, you've got to be in, or you're definitely left out, only to be compensated by good acting from the leading man Stuhlbarg, a slew of caricatures who will allow you to laugh at them on the surface only, and some really out of this world anecdotes that will leave you wondering how much of it comes from the Coens' own personal experiences. Then again, one could opt not to be hard up to decipher everything from the film, with at least 2 of the 3 fables I'm deciphering as taking a step back and not harp upon some of the things that happen because like Life, not everything has an answer to, and it's not every time that you get to understand why certain things occur for a purpose until some time later.

You have been warned, and of course please feel free to share with me what you see in the film that made you like it so much, so that my eyes can be opened to see the new clothes on the emperor.

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