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Movie Review: A Serious Man

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A great paradox of the Coen Brothers' films is that they are all exactly the same even as they are all miraculously different. If you're a fan of theirs, I think that would make perfect sense to you. However, even if you've never seen a single one of their films, I'd wager that if I placed ten random films in front of you and two of them were made by the Coens, you'd correctly pick them out. There's just a certain quality to their work -- a meticulous, inventive attention to detail -- that is immediately obvious. Their latest film, A Serious Man is no exception. Simply put, it's strange and ordinary, funny and tragic. More simply, it's brilliant.

If there is a master gloss that can reveal the nature of all of the Coen Brothers' films it may be this: there is an infinite amount of uncertainty in the universe and that uncertainty visits humanity with a profound sense of ambivalence. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is, by all accounts, a decent and serious man. He maintains a good job; he cares for his family; he is a humble and observant Jew. As soon as the movie opens, though, his world suddenly and unexpectedly collapses. His wife decides to leave him; his expected tenure is thrown into chaos, and he can't find a rabbi who will help him. He's basically Job, circa 1967 in Minnesota.