A serious man

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German title A serious man
Original title A serious man
Country of production United States
original language English , Yiddish
Publishing year 2009
length 105 minutes
Age rating FSK 12
JMK 12
Director Ethan and Joel Coen
script Ethan and Joel Coen
production Ethan and Joel Coen
music Carter Burwell
camera Roger Deakins
cut Ethan and Joel Coen as Roderick Jaynes

A Serious Man is an American feature film from 2009. Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen , who also wrote the script, produced the film and edited the film under their shared pseudonym Roderick Jaynes . The black comedy is set in a suburb of the Midwest in 1967 , the main character and most of the other characters belong to the Jewish community. It is the Coen brothers' most personal work to date. They explained that while describing the milieu they drew on memories of their own youth in Minnesota , but none of the characters were autobiographical. The film consists of “oddities and curiosities” and “quirky characters and curious anecdotes”. Many critics drew comparisons between the main character and the Old Testament figure of Job , whom the devil, with God's permission, tests through severe strokes of fate.


The film begins with an allegorical scene set in a Polish shtetl prior to the First World War . A couple argue about whether or not the nocturnal visitor to Traitle Groshkover is a ghost ( dibbuk ). The woman stabs him in the chest, whereupon he staggers bleeding out into the night and disappears. The husband is appalled and believes that his family will be cursed from now on.

At the beginning of the main story, Larry Gopnik goes to the doctor for a routine examination. As a physics professor , he leads a peaceful life in the American Midwest and lives with his family, who are part of the Jewish community, in a house with a garden in a suburb. Just as he has the prospect of a future permanent position, his wife tells him that she wants to get a divorce, since she is now with his widowed colleague Sy Ableman. This begins a series of setbacks for Larry: His schizophrenic brother Arthur, who has taken up residence with him and his family and is working on a mentaculus, a universal map of probability, is threatened with arrest for illegal gambling. A Korean student tries to bribe him to pass an exam. Afterwards, anonymous letters arrive at his employer that compromise him and thus endanger his employment for life. In addition, Larry, who now lives in a motel with his brother, brings various circumstances into financial problems, such as the payment of his lawyer, whom he hired in the course of a neighborhood dispute and his imminent divorce. This situation is made even worse when Larry wrecks the family car in a self-inflicted accident. He is also supposed to pay for the funeral costs of his rival Sy Ableman, who died in another car accident at the same time as his accident. The height of misery seems to have been reached when his brother Arthur is threatened with a complaint for illegal contact initiation in a bar and homosexual acts, whereby Larry is suggested to hire a criminal defense attorney. To make matters worse, Larry witnesses how a lawyer who allegedly found the solution to his neighborhood dispute dies of a heart attack in the law firm.

Because of his numerous personal problems, Larry seeks pastoral help from various rabbis who, however, can or only want to help him to a very limited extent. His attempt to be admitted to the supposedly wisest Rabbi Marshak fails several times. Meanwhile, Larry is constantly plagued by nightmares .

In the short term, some of the problems seem solvable. During her son's bar mitzvah , who is smoking weed before the event, but can still successfully end the ceremony, Larry and his wife apparently get closer again. He learns that Sy Ableman had sent the anonymous letters. In addition, Larry's permanent position seems to be finally secure. He decides to let his failed student survive in order to pay his attorney's bill with the bribe. Shortly thereafter, Larry receives a call from his doctor asking for an immediate personal meeting. It has something to do with the x-rays from his most recent visit to the doctor, but no details are given. The film leaves Larry's further fate open after the endurance. The aftermath of the tornado that rushes towards Larry's son's school at the end of the film also remains open.


The German critics rated the film positively, but interpreted it differently. They noted an “enormous, dark comedy”, the film was “a gorgeous comedy [...] a warm, sardonic joke”. The meaning of the anecdotes and references is not always understandable. Leading actor Michael Stuhlbarg is "wonderful" or "wonderfully mournful". Cinematographer Deakins creates "some pictures that appear hyper-real in their exact composition and clear beauty". These are "hard, even the light sometimes has something inexplicably gloomy and frozen, and some shots are reminiscent of the clinically cold cinema paintings by David Lynch."

Kai Mihm from epd Film saw in the film a “reflection on the supposed contradictions and the mutual interpenetration of religious“ belief ”and rational“ knowledge ”.“ The Coen brothers understand both “as part of a cosmic whole. Larry's oversized blackboard, littered with seemingly cryptic formulas, finds an equivalent in the blackboard of his son's Talmudic school, written with hardly less cryptic Hebrew lettering. ”The story alternates“ between smirking irony and an existentialist search for meaning ”, between“ ironic-blasphemous play and more spiritual Seriousness."

Several critics saw the director as the god of his film character, including Tobias Kniebe in the Süddeutsche Zeitung : “In addition to the indisputably existing omnipotence that they now have over their films, as well as an effortless mastery of the craft of creation, which one could call divine without exaggeration, is pleasing to them above all the fact that God […] is not accountable to his audience. ”Nevertheless, they love their creation and every nuance is important to them. The “useless rabbis” in the film are “about as helpful as film critics” for Larry, who is looking for advice. ”Holger Römers from film-dienst was of the opposite view . The Coens looked distanced and “from above” at their figures; "In the elegant, albeit never extravagant, staging there is little evidence of any alleged affection for the characters."

The Spiegel critic Andreas Borcholte discovered a "story about the constant, albeit futile, search of people for the meaning of life and their own existence". The Coen brothers were "seldom more ruthless" and denied their protagonist the normality he longs for. “The angry Old Testament God seems even more merciful than these directors who act with cold precision.” For Borcholte, the work is “the most mature and cryptic of all Coen films [...] So in the end it is perhaps the passive persistence and his ultimately not of search for spiritual redemption, which shows that the actually so rational physicist Gopnik is punished by his creators: What helps you the least in life, according to his lesson, is God. "

The time reviewer Thomas Assheuer also rated the work as the “darkest and most profound film” of the brothers . Larry differs from the biblical figure: “The Old Testament Job is still wrestling with his God and demanding justice; Larry resigns before he rebels. He's just a modern Job and he knows: the world is what is the case. There is no room in it for justice. ”An invisible veil separates the figures from one another, there is“ blurring, indeterminacy, social trance ”. But the Coens countered the comedy of the “omnipresent ironic culture”, which dissolves everything serious. This kind comedy is "avoidance of pathos, it springs back, it plays with seriousness without denying it." Unlike the Catholic Martin Scorsese in his films, the Coens did not transfigure the suffering of the Job figure. They are not concerned with beliefs, but with real history of the 20th century. You have to look: "Seeing the world anew, that could be the punch line of the Coens, is the essence of cinema, which declares itself to be the medium of salvation."


  • When Larry's son is admitted to Rabbi Marshak after the bar mitzvah, he quotes from Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane and lists the names of the band members.
  • The connection between the prehistory in the shtetl and Larry's fate is not clarified. In Rabbi Marshak's office a picture of Traitle Groshkover - the supposed Dibbuks - can be seen.


Golden Globe Awards 2010

Oscar 2010

Other awards:

In 2016, A Serious Man ranked 82nd in a BBC poll of the 100 most important films of the 21st century .



Review mirror


Rather positive

  • Cinema No. 2/2010, p. 40, by Ralf Blau: A Serious Man

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Certificate of Release for A Serious Man . Voluntary self-regulation of the film industry , May 2010 (PDF; test number: 121 141 V).
  2. ^ Age rating for A Serious Man . Youth Media Commission .
  3. Joel and Ethan Coen in Der Spiegel , January 18, 2010: We paint a picture
  4. a b c d Andreas Borcholte: Heaven, where are you? In: Der Spiegel , January 19, 2010
  5. a b Ralf Blau: A Serious Man . In: Cinema No. 2/2010, p. 40
  6. a b c Tobias Kniebe: What does God want from this man? In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , January 20, 2010
  7. a b c Thomas Assheuer: Comedy is a fighting technique . In: Die Zeit , January 15, 2010
  8. a b Kai Mihm: Accept the riddle! In: epd film no. 1/2010, pp. 28-31
  9. Holger Römers: A Serious Man . In: film-dienst No. 2/200, pp. 26–27