Here is a still picture from the newest release by Joe and Ethan Coen, entitled A Serious Man. It is an image of the main character standing on the roof of his own home, which is located in a very mundane and grassy suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The setting works very well for this mastery-told story that follows the trials and tribulations of a Jewish Physics Professor, Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg).
This image is everywhere, as a promotion for the film. Only after seeing the movie did I realize that this particular still, both satirizes and also confirms the archetype of “The Fiddler On the Roof”. I think it is safe to say that this scene, where Larry Gopnik has to climb up on the roof to adjust the family TV antennae, so that his teenage son can watch F-Troop, is designed as a late sixties version of the classic Jewish tale. In fact throughout this thoroughly engaging film, there is the constant presence of Jewish religious thought, often portrayed by a series of rabbis both young and green and old and learned. But don’t let the presence of a large number of religious leaders deter anyone from viewing this comic gem of a movie. For in this witty piece of cinematic storytelling, the religious message is relayed through a series of humorous, entertaining and sometimes tragic events. The movie makes the forever valid assertion that good storytelling involves tragedy and misfortune as often as it does triumph and success.
This movie is really two fables. The first one occurs in the past, somewhere in Poland, where the three characters where clothing and inhabit a setting straight out of Fiddler on the Roof. This excellent piece is very short and at first appears to have no relationship to the main tale. The bulk of the movie follows Professor Gropnik through an extraordinary series of mid-life crises that seemed to have come his way by divine providence, just to rattle his soul and test his faith.
All in all, A Serious Man is a very good perhaps even a great movie, which was written from scratch by the two talented brothers. This cinematic episode is another fine effort from these two, as the pair continues to leave their artistic stamp on the Hollywood movies of the late 20th and early 21st century.
Hope all is well, as we quickly approach the Holiday season and New Year. Best wishes Everett Autumn.