Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

A Serious Man (2009)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

A Serious Man (2009, US/UK/Fr.)

In this Best Picture-nominated dark comedy from the Coen Brothers:

  • the series of unexpected batterings, trials and tormenting tribulations experienced by a perplexed, middle-class Jew in suburban Minnesota in 1967 -- a beleaguered, mild-mannered, Job-like university physics professor named Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg):
    -- a letter containing money given to him as a bribe by disgruntled South Korean student Clive Park (David Chang) to change his mid-term grade from an F to passing (and with additional threats of a lawsuit by the student's father)
    -- imminent tenure consideration with unofficial warnings from the chairman of the committee Arlen Finkle (Ari Hoptman) that anonymous letters had been received referring to his "moral turpitude"
    -- an expensive bar-mitzvah for his marijuana-smoking son Danny (Aaron Wolff) who loved listening to the rock group the Jefferson Airplane and complained repeatedly about poor TV reception from the rooftop TV antenna making it impossible for him to watch F-Troop
    -- a rebellious, self-centered eldest daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) who was stealing money from her dad's wallet for a desired nose-job
    -- his matronly, discontented and adulterous wife Judith (Sari Lennick) seeking a divorce because she was seeing overbearing, erudite, and unctuous widower Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed)
    -- Larry's displacement from the house to the local Jolly Roger Motel along with his ailing, depressed, loser/odd-ball brother Arthur (Richard Kind) who had a sebaceous draining cyst on his neck and was suspected of both illegal gambling and sodomy
    -- a property line dispute with his redneck, anti-semitic neighbor Mr. Brandt (Peter Breitmayer)
    -- his disorientation after spying on his nude-sunbathing, semi-abandoned, blase, promiscuous next-door neighbor Mrs. Samsky (Amy Landecker) from his rooftop while adjusting the antenna - who later offered to smoke a joint with him in her home (she asked provocatively: "Do you take advantage of the new freedoms?")
    -- a triple fender-bender on the same day that Sy was killed in another automobile accident
    -- repeated annoying phone calls from Dick Dutton at the Columbia Record Club for four-months non-payment of fees for receipt of the selection of the month
    -- high-priced consultation with pessimistic divorce lawyer (Adam Arkin)
    -- and his unsuccessful encounters with three rabbis regarding his treatment by Hashem (aka God)
  • in his last meeting, he pleaded: "I've tried to be a serious man, you know? Tried to do right, be a member of the community, raise Danny, Sarah, they both go to school, Hebrew school....Please, I need help"
  • his life succinctly illustrated by a blackboard completely filled with physics formulas demonstrating "The Uncertainty Principle" -- as he told the exiting class when the bell rang: "It proves we can't ever really know what's going on. But even though you can't figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the mid-term"
  • the clincher - a film-closing call from his doctor to ominously discuss recent X-rays (taken at the start of the film) amidst a threatening tornado
  • at the end of the credits, it was noted: "No Jews Were Harmed in the Making of This Motion Picture."


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