A Serious Man is quietly tumultuous and action-packed; it features infidelity, car crashes, terminal illness, the murder of a rabbi (or maybe a dybbuk), ghosts, theft, a hint at buggery, anti-semitism, terminal illness, fraud and bribery and corruption, an insidious whispering campaign, dysfunctional families, official indifference, corporate greed, there’s even a damn tornado….
But throughout all this drama, Larry Gopnik, a modest, Jewish suburban father struggles – and fails – to find meaning from his increasingly turbulent life. But played by Michael Stuhlbarg, Gopnik is neither a whining victim nor a hapless clown, he’s just you or me but Jewish. Subtly sensitive, wincingly humourous – A Serious Man is the kind of film you always sort of expect when going to a Woody Allen movie, and are always sort of disappointed that he hasn’t delivered.
It’s definitively set in a comfortable-middle class suburban Minnesota in 1967, and considerable attention was clearly paid to finding filming locations that fit the look and feel of the era; apparently the art design is partly based on Brad Zellar’s book Suburban World: The Norling Photographs. The city of Bloomington offered a neighborhood of original-looking suburban rambler homes and a number of period locations were used from the area – including the St.Louis Synagogue.
Incidentally, and in a kind of riffing, lateral thinking kind of way, I came across an interesting Slate article last week, in the aftermath of Rick Sanchez’ anti-semitic jibe at Jon Stewart entitled Do Jews Really Control the Media? The answer, it would seem, is only the fun parts.