Tag Archives: a serious man

Shelter Skelter

In Michael Shannon’s latest psychotic episode, Take Shelter, he is plagued by apocalyptic bedwetting nightmares as he struggles to get a grip on his Midwest, mayonnaise salad reality. Though it doesn’t help that his Mother is plum nuts – nor does the added stress of paying for his deaf Daughter’s expensive surgery or a wife, Jessica Chastain, that sows and seams on the side (and has Kenny Power’s slutty Wife for a best friend). So as any man would do, he takes out a loan against his house to build a top notch storm shelter.

But before this exploration into Shannon’s psychosis, the Producers of the film were in attendance to provide a quick intro, and afterwards, a Q&A that made me wish I’d taken shelter myself. Like proud parents, except the fact they gushed and praised themselves – One who reminded us peons that she used go to the Angelika theater as an NYU student, trying to convey what a long journey it has been, while the other dude was busy dropping names – both ass kissing the director, Jeff Nichols and drawing comparisons to Close Encounters and The Shining. But I didn’t see no fucking aliens or ghosts, just another dysfunctional family trying not to fall from the tree of life. However, Nichols does succeed in examining Shannon’s mental breakdown. Then again after past run ins with Shannon on the streets it comes as no surprise when he loses his shit and flips the fuck out at the church dinner scene – “There’s a storm-a coming!” 

(Tyler Davidson & Sophia Lin)

So when the final credits were rolling the first question raised was, “What happened at the end?” Given that it’s ending is ambiguous they gave their pat answer as its soul is about a family’s communication and the state of the gloomy world. But that doesn’t explain that insane tsunami and multiple tornadoes threatening their vacation on Myrtle Beach. Too bad Shannon’s survival kit of gas masks and canned beans didn’t include a radio for they might have been a bit more in tune with Harold Camping’s sermon. In the end, I couldn’t care less if it was a dream or reality, Myrtle Beach is a shit hole anyway…and I’d rather watch my Serious Man Blu Ray.

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Fiddler on the Roof

A Serious Man Poster

“How is it possible to find the meaning in a finite world, given my waist and shirt size?”  – Woody Allen

Scorsese had Mean Streets, Truffaut had The 400 Blows, Fellini – Amacord, and Woody Allen – Radio Days. Countless directors have paid homage to their childhoods as the Coen Brothers join the ranks keeping their quintessential absurdity and profundity but still resulting in probably their most sublime movie yet, A Serious Man. As it never presents itself as a personal nostalgic coming of age movie one can’t help that the world the Coen Brother’s create was not concocted out of their idiosyncratic imaginations but obviously from their own repressed childhood environment. Granted, Fargo was set in their beloved Minnesota and based on a “true story,” I doubt Joel or Ethan ever used a woodchipper or American Indian car mechanics like Shep Proudfoot and instead were more likely come across The Three Wise Rabbi’s.

A Serious Man Rabbi

After several decades of the Coens delving into every genre, what they have drawn from childhood they still retain enough fiction to keep it interesting. This too keeps that fiction by not having the protagonist as their alter egos. Instead we have Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) who is a physics professor struggling to raise his family in small town middle America, Minnesota within a Jewish insular community in 1967. But before we are introduced to this slice of Jewish-Americana the movie opens with a curious quote:

“Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.” – Rashi.

After Googling Rashi I found out this dude was far from a simpleton but a medieval French Rabbi who had a thing or two to say about the Talmud.

This then is followed by what is seemingly an old yiddish cautionary folk tale that alludes to the possibility of evil reincarnation or just plain superstition shot in 4:3 aspect ratio for good measure until we go widescreen funneling out from 13 year old Danny Gopnik’s ear via a transistor radio. Soon to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah, this pot smoking, Jefferson Airplane loving boy, who steals money from his Dad’s wallet to feed his habits, is unquestionably and ironically the only reasonable person in the movie – for TV and weed are a lot more appealing than parking lots and waddling yentas hacking up last night’s matzoh ball soup.

A Serious Man Danny(The Coens sure know how to dress a set to regress. Go F-Troop!)

As jewy as it may be ultimately it’s about most American dysfunctional families. I mean, every family has a a promiscuous Wife, a backstabbing best friend, a crazy freeloading Uncle that scribbles the meaning of the universe in a notebook or a Sister that is preoccupied with her face and hair.

Serious Man Mom and Daughter

But given the structure of the jewish community it is the Rabbi’s that hold the position of power and the ones that they flock to for guidance only to part ironically with more questions about teeth cavities and how to be a good boy and with the uncertainty that the only truth being that mortality and mother nature are inevitable.

A Serious Man Gopnik

(I should stick with Mentaculus.)

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