A Serious Man

October 9th, 2009


A Serious Man

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Still of Sari Lennick and Jessica McManus in A Serious ManStill of Fred Melamed and Sari Lennick in A Serious ManDan Fogler at event of A Serious ManStill of Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious ManStill of Richard Kind and Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious ManStill of Ethan Coen and Joel Coen in A Serious Man

A black comedy drama centered on Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern professor who watches his life unravel through multiple sudden incidents. Though seeking for meaning and answers he seems to stay stalled.

Release Year: 2009

Rating: 7.1/10 (51,798 voted)

Critic's Score: 79/100

Director: Ethan Coen

Stars: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick

Bloomington, Minnesota, 1967: Jewish physics lecturer Larry Gopnik is a serious and a very put-upon man. His daughter is stealing from him to save up for a nose job, his pot-head son, who gets stoned at his own bar-mitzvah, only wants him round to fix the TV aerial and his useless brother Arthur is an unwelcome house guest. But both Arthur and Larry get turfed out into a motel when Larry's wife Judy, who wants a divorce, moves her lover, Sy, into the house and even after Sy's death in a car crash they are still there. With lawyers' bills mounting for his divorce, Arthur's criminal court appearances and a land feud with a neighbour Larry is tempted to take the bribe offered by a student to give him an illegal exam pass mark. And the rabbis he visits for advice only dole out platitudes. Still God moves in mysterious - and not always pleasant - ways, as Larry and his family will find out.

Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Michael Stuhlbarg - Prof. Lawrence 'Larry' Gopnik
Richard Kind - Uncle Arthur
Fred Melamed - Sy Ableman
Sari Lennick - Judith Gopnik
Aaron Wolff - Danny Gopnik
Jessica McManus - Sarah Gopnik
Peter Breitmayer - Mr. Brandt
Brent Braunschweig - Mitch Brandt
David Kang - Clive Park
Benjy Portnoe - Danny's Reefer Buddy
Jack Swiler - Boy on Bus
Andrew S. Lentz - Cursing Boy on Bus
Jon Kaminski Jr. - Mike Fagle
Ari Hoptman - Arlen Finkle
Alan Mandell - Rabbi Marshak


Official Website: Official Facebook | Official site |

Release Date: 9 October 2009

Filming Locations: Bloomington, Minnesota, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $7,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $251,337 (USA) (4 October 2009) (6 Screens)

Gross: $9,190,525 (USA) (3 January 2009)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

When Larry is looking at his class list near the end of the movie, the last student name is Mary Zophres. Zophres is the costume designer on this film.

Anachronisms: When the son is studying for his Bar Mitzvah using an LP, the cover of a famous LP of Cantor Joseph Rosenblatt is shown. This record was in actuality a re-issue of Rosenblatt's famous cantorial recordings on the Victor label in the early 20th century, and not what the boy is listening to.

[first lines]
Shtetl Husband: What a marvel... what a marvel.

User Review

So nu? Who understands this "Schroedinger's Cat"?

Rating: 10/10


Several reviewers have commented on physics representing logical certainty. In this movie, the opposite is true, and I believe that is the fulcrum upon which this modern story of Job rests. Modern physics strikes at the very heart of faith, mystery and law

The dybbuk! The husband is caught in the world of the material and cannot believe that the rabbi before him is a spirit, but his wife...she is not fooled! She believes that the world is filled with mysteries, and her faith in this leads to decisive action--saving them??

"Schroedinger's Cat" is a modern mystery, and it is the single subject that Larry is teaching in his physics class. "Bracket k bracket and it is equal," he says with finality, thinking that he has demonstrated the order of the world neatly. But "Schroedinger's Cat" is the ultimate expression of the rules of order, or G-d's work, leading off the cliff into the abyss of mystery.

In the example Schroedinger published in 1935, a cat is in a box with a "diabolical apparatus" which kills the cat if a random subatomic particle decays. Modern physics, being invented at the time, made the absurd prediction that until you opened the lid to check, the cat was in some sort of blurred probability space of being alive/dead, and it only became actually dead (or alive) when you opened the lid to check. Observation changed reality. The cat is in a mysterious state, beyond our comprehension or belief until we look. Do we have faith? Einstein didn't. He countered stating that "G-d doesn't play dice with the universe!" Schroedinger was doubtful, but insisted that the mystery was simply inescapable. This is the foundation for a rich allegory, indeed.

"I don't understand the mathematics, but I understand the stories," Larry's Korean student insists. "No, if you don't understand the math, you don't understand the physics. Even I sometimes don't understand the stories," Larry shoots back.

And in this lies the nub of the tale. Larry understands the rules--and follows them. His life is dreary and takes a seeming nose dive. Plague after plague arise and he is perplexed. One rabbi says "We all question the existence of hashem ("his name" = G-d) and then we see the wonder in...the parking lot." HE GETS IT!! For him it is faith. Even the friggin' parking lot is a divine miracle! The next rabbi weaves a deeply mystical tale with a banal ending. Larry is outraged. "What does it mean?" "How do I know. G-d does't owe us an explanation. The responsibility is the other way around," the rabbi responds. They each have their own understanding and advise. The young rabbi is not yet wise and advises faith. The next rabbi acknowledges mystery, but says it is beyond us to understand, so be a good person, "or a better person." "God doesn't owe us an explanation. The responsibility runs the other way."

It soon becomes clear that the Korean student and his father have a razor-sharp understanding of the "Schroedinger's Cat" story and thrust the paradox into Larry's life with a vengeance. If only Larry understood the paradox.

But he understands logic and rules. His faith is shaky, but he follows the rules. Sy doesn't believe a G-d is watching him, steals his friends wife, and G-d strikes him down in his path.

Even Larry's brother, believes in a crazy half-physics, half-Kaballah mystery and he actually wins card games with it, but he breaks the rules and is a pariah.

The last rabbi will not even talk to him. The most direct response of G- d being questioned by a doubting subject.

At the end, Larry feels he is through his trial and "opens the box" to check to see if there is a G-d there. Surprise! There is! He opened the box by breaking the rules. The cat is dead. All his plagues had only been in some sort of blurred probability space of having happened/not happened; his marriage, his tenure the whole chain of events. It was not until he tested G-d by breaking a rule that the very real G-d of the bible smote him and his eldest son down.

The original Job had actual punishments and kept his faith. Our modern Job has existential punishments and ends with a lack of faith. We must have faith, recognize the mysteries or obey the law according to our capacity, but to do none of these is an abomination.


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