Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Serious Man (Review)

     I may just be done with the Coen brothers after this.  I don't care how brilliant your symbolism is, poor story telling makes for an unenjoyable movie.  I may be being a bit harsh.  I'll give the Coen brothers this.  They do seem to be able to capture the essence of a person or people.  Perhaps if I knew more about Midwestern Jews in the 1960s I would have found parts of "A Serious Man" more interesting or amusing.  I did, after all, love "Raising Arizona," but, then again, I have a lot of experience with, shall we say, people who prefer to live in trailer houses.  That having been said, making a movie inaccessible to everyone but a specific group is also bad storytelling. 

     "A Serious Man" is the Coen brothers attempt to tell the biblical story of Job, in which, Satan contends that, to a man who has everything in life, like Job does, faith comes easily, so, to prove a point, God allows Satan to do all sorts of terrible things to Job, but Job's faith remains unshaken, so God gives him back everything he had, plus more.  In the Coen brothers version, a very sad and pathetic individual, has some bad things happen to him and he gives into temptation.  Along the way, there is a lot of symbolic imagery, including a tornado, and a lot of loose ends don't get tied up. (Also, I was bored for 105 minutes!)

     This wasn't all that bad of an idea for a film, but the story was executed very poorly.  It's impossible to feel anything for our main character, with the exception of maybe contempt.  Without empathy for the characters, you are simply left to sit in the dark watching sad, pathetic people fail miserably at life until the end, where they fail the final, biblically inspired, test.  (I understood the ending, the tornado is God, but that doesn't mean that I liked the ending, or any other part of it!)  People who are not familiar with the biblical story, or who fail to make the connection to it, will simply be bored by this movie and completely confused by the ending.  It's the job of the storyteller to make their story accessible to as many as possible, not just a few.  (Unless your goal is to make your movie inaccessible and pompous.)  Again, that's bad story telling. Just as surly as making a movie with nothing but overblown special effects and no plot makes for a poor movie, so does nailing the symbolism you are trying to get across, but failing to make any other part of the movie engaging.

     If your passions lie in picking a movie apart to find more and more layers of (what you think are) symbolic meaning so that others will marvel at your (apparent) perception, you'll love this one.  As for me, well, I know when, as an audience member, I'm not wanted.

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