If I’ve counted correctly, A Serious Man is the Coen brothers’ 14th film. As the 2000s got underway, I was starting to think the Coens had lost their mojo. With Intolerable Cruelty in 2003 and then The Ladykillers in (2004) things were on a bad trajectory. Luckily, after taking a few years off they proved they still had some genius left by adding another masterpiece to their body of work with No Country For Old Men. Last year brought Burn After Reading which, despite having its moments, was not in contention for their best work.
Last night I went to see A Serious Man without knowing what to expect. I didn’t know anything about the film except that it has gotten a very narrow release (I had to drive all the way into Portland to see it) due, supposedly, to its being inaccessibly steeping in things Jewish. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was watching a new Coen brothers masterpiece. The movie has all the hallmarks you’ve come to expect from the Coens: unforgettable characters, palpable tone, brilliant storytelling, and dark comedy.
The film is about Larry Gopnik, a Jewish professor of physics who is struggling to make sense of the fact that his life that is crumbling down around him. It’s true that there is a lot that is Jewish in the film, but far from making the movie inaccessible, I thought it brought the movie right into the living room. Gopnik is a regular guy, trying to do the right thing for his family, trying to live a moral life, working hard and hoping to get tenure, excited about his son’s coming bar mitzvah. While his marriage, job, and family unexpectedly begin to melt down, he struggles to find the meaning. Why is God doing this to him? Why should he continue to follow his moral code when it has not protected him from this devastation?
The movie does not attempt to “answer” this problem, exactly, but it does explore the problem in a brilliant way. The opening vignette (in Yiddish) and the final conclusion of the movie are left to the viewer to interpret, so I can’t predict what you’ll think, but from my perspective it was ultimately faith-affirming. There is no defense offered for the God who sits silently while Gopnik suffers, but it is not a movie about God. It is a movie about all of us and how we’ll respond to morality when faced with such a God.
So, where does this fall in the pantheon of Coen brother’s movies? Somewhere near the top. I have a hard enough time already ranking their best 5 movies, but this one will make it that much harder. Seriously, go see this movie.
 When reading a movie review it is nice to know how your own movie preferences line up with the reviewer. For reference, here is how I rank the previous Coen brothers films. How can Fargo be as low as fifth? It’s a fair question, one that I struggle with. The top five are almost a toss up, I love them all. Miller’s Crossing really belongs in the top five too, but I don’t know how to get it in there.
1. The Big Lebowski
2. Raising Arizona
3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
4. No Country For Old Men
6. Miller’s Crossing
7. Blood Simple
8. Barton Fink
9. Burn After Reading
10. The Man Who Wasn’t There
11. The Hudsucker Proxy
12. Intolerable Cruelty
13. The Ladykillers
 Ever since reading the BCC review in which Batman: The Dark Knight was decried as a nearly Satanic movie, I realized that I should not make any guesses about what other people will take away from a film.