Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

A Serious Man

A Serious Man is a film by the Coen brothers, just released in the UK. The Coens are clearly massively talented, but a bit variable. This one is very much like The Man Who Wasn't There from almost ten years ago. Like that film it is very low-key, but I suspect it will stick with me, like that film did.

It's the story of a middle aged Jewish physics professor in Minnesota in 1967. He faces various crises and challenges that are very important to him, but not earth-shaking in the scheme of things, such as his wife deciding to leave him for a ghastly overbearing git, and a student trying to bribe him. The pace of the story is quite gentle, the scenes are slow, there's a lot of space for thinking. It was incredibly vivid, like a vivid dream. It was almost disorienting when the film finished and I was not actually in 1967.

The film is about uncertainty. Every time we see him in a lecture, he's delivering the same topic - Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Schroedinger's cat. The events of his life strike him, as they strike us watching the film, as rather bizarre and coincidental. It's as if they have a meaning, but he can't figure out what it is. In one scene that made me laugh out loud, he draws a series of equations and we pull out to see an infeasibly massive board, covered in numbers and symbols, and he concludes the lecture - 'and thus proving that we don't know anything'.

The only reasonably good advice anyone gives him in this film in the context of uncertainty is 'be nice to other people - it can't hurt'. Jefferson Airplane's 'You need somebody to love' features heavily. Having said that, there is a marked absence of love or even niceness. Almost everyone in it is pretty horrible, and uncaring, though perhaps towards the end they start to try to be a bit nicer to each other. The aesthetic is also very oppressive.

I thought that Anton Chigurh in the Coen's No Country for Old Men was like a black hole in space-time. That is, anyone who perceived him, was killed before they could pass on any information about him. The exception was the old woman who said to him 'We do not give out information' - when she said that he spared her. This film I think has a similar theme, but this time we are inside the black box. We are like the cat, and we don't find out what happened to it.
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