Skip to main content

A Serious Man

I just saw the Coen brothers' new film.  "A Serious Man."  It is a must see.  It is as the reviewers have noted a modern midrash on the biblical Job.  It is the story of a math professor who believes that life in general and his life in particular should follow certain understandable and definable formulas.  Of course life does not.  As his life unravels he, unlike his brother and like Job, never curses God and tries to uncover life's hidden meaning and seeks out the advice of three rabbis.  The rabbis all fail, some worse than others.  The below clip contains my favorite scene.  "The rabbi is busy...  He is thinking."  The most senior rabbi actually refuses to meet with the serious man.  The other rabbis either give entirely inadequate answers or tell a story rather than answer the question.  The best answer is of course "He is thinking."  That is the only answer we have.

Some have suggested that the movie is self hating and portrays an unflattering picture of American Judaism, Jews and rabbis.  I disagree.  It is honest, perhaps brutally so.  I feel the inadequacy of sitting at the other side of the table from the serious man.  How can anyone really understand and answer life's mysteries?  That is the essence of the Job story.  Many (especially rabbis) pretend to have it all figured out.  That is what the movie and the biblical Job rejects.  There is more to write about and discuss: the portrayal of the relation between Jews and "goyim," the picture of Hebrew School and bar mitzvahs and of course the prominence of Jefferson Airplane.  The movie is framed by two quotes.  It begins with a quote from Rashi, the great medieval Jewish commentator: "React with simplicity to everything that happens to you." and concludes with Jefferson Airplane: "When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies."  Somewhere, sandwiched in between tradition and modernity, and while tossed around by the whirlwind (here a tornado), we uncover our inadequate answers to life's mysteries. Rabbis can't figure it all out for you!  If you would like to participate in a discussion about the film, go to our synagogue's Facebook fan page.