The Coen Brothers aren’t necessarily known for their directness. Many of their films are exhausting mental exercises, featuring quirky leads and indecipherable thematic codes. One of their most ambiguous films is 2009’s A Serious Man. Transporting us to their hometown of St. Louis Park, Minnesota circa the 1960’s, A Serious Man finds a meek, mild-mannered man, Larry Gopnik, confronting his faith, a fruitless career and the cosmic ramifications of his actions in the face of duress. Much like our protagonist, ambiguity poisons our mind throughout the film’s scant run time as Larry makes a collection of decisions that compel him to question his existence. The one scene most people trip over, if not completely discount, is the film’s final sequence where a destructive tornado rages towards a defenseless school housing Larry’s son. Is the tornado a divine act destined to cleanse the Earth of Larry’s misgivings? Or is it merely a collision of coincidences, set to further complicate Larry’s internal struggle with his faith? The answer is found within the viewer, but this moment deftly captures the eternal struggle undermining our quest for personal solitude. And it’s with this bleak ending that the Coen Brother’s dare us to wonder if life’s grand, problematic gestures are worth deciphering, or if we’re better off embracing the mystery.
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cinematographer: Richard Deakins