A Serious Man (2009) is a dramatic comedy about Larry Gopnik. The man works at the university, where he became not just a teacher and essay writer but also a professor. Talking about science is one thing, but building relationships with people is quite another. He has so many problems that it is almost impossible to cope with. All difficulties relate to interaction with folks in the immediate environment: wife, children, neighbour, students, etc. The film ends abruptly, making the audience wonder what it was all about. So here’s the plot and ending of A Serious Man explained; spoilers ahead.
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Where To Watch?
To find where to stream any movie or series based on your country, use This Is Barry’s Where To Watch.
Oh, and if this article doesn’t answer all of your questions, drop me a comment or an FB chat message, and I’ll get you the answer. You can find other film explanations using the search option on top of the site.
Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:
A Serious Man: What is it about?
The central character, Larry Gopnik, is trying his best to live his life as a serious man. He has a whole bunch of personal and professional problems that he’s trying to solve, but they only grow, and everything spirals out of control. Larry turns to the rabbis for help. He believes that they will be able to teach him to fix everything that is happening calmly and with understanding. A Serious Man follows a righteous man trying live and let live and the consequences of such naivety.
The movie belongs to the comedy and drama genre and is interesting for people of any age. A Serious Man throws light on complex academic subjects, where students sometimes need the assistance of a PhD dissertation writing service.
A Serious Man: Beginning Explained
The Coen Brothers stated that the short story in the beginning was to simply set the mood and the Jewish context which is a strong layer throughout the film. Here we can see how the lady takes her stance on the matter and takes action by stabbing the old man. This is just the opposite of Larry doing nothing. Like in the main film, here too the audience doesn’t get to know how the couple’s story ends.
A Serious Man: Plot Explained
Larry and his troubles
America, the late sixties. Jewish Community in the Midwest. The protagonist of the story is Larry Gopnik, a college physics teacher. Everything in Larry’s life starts to go awry.
First, a Korean-American student gives Larry a bribe hoping to undo his failing grade in physics. Larry refuses, but this bribe immediately causes problems. The student does not admit that it is his money envelope, and later the student’s father threatens to sue Larry for defamation if he does not fix the grade.
Larry’s neighbor, a ruffian, encroaches on a portion of the Gopnikov family’s plot. He takes it brazenly, without remorse, because he knows Larry is too coy to prevent this.
Larry’s wife, Judith, is about to leave him for another man. This other man is Sy Ableman, the family’s best friend. To the audience Sy is obviously cunning and later revealed to be the one sending anonymous letter to the institution defaming Larry. He slyly forces Larry to leave home and live in a motel with his brother Arthur, who has neither a home nor a job. In addition, Arthur breaks state laws by gambling, for which he can be imprisoned.
Larry’s children, Danny and Sarah, are entirely indifferent to all the problems in the house. They do not respect their father and steal money from him. Larry does not understand why he is being punished, as he didn’t do anything wrong. All he did was he calmly raised children, taught physics in college, and provided for his family. Despite this, he’s bombarded with a series of dramatic changes. He’s a classic ‘too good for this world’ person that everyone treats as a punching bag.
The Junior Rabbi
Larry hopes that at least the rabbi will help him understand. And he goes to Rabbi Nachtner but meets Rabbi Scott, a junior rabbi who enthusiastically tries to explain some [hillariously] bizarre theoretical metaphorical thing to Larry. Larry [and the audience] obviously does not understand a word of what Scott is talking about and leaves.
Larry then meets with the older and wise Rabbi Nachtner. The rabbi tells Larry a parable about inscriptions on a guy’s teeth with a hideously abrupt ending and explains that no one can understand God’s ways and that Larry just needs to stop finding a reason why bad things are happening to him. He advises him to do good deeds as it doesn’t hurt anybody. This turns out to be a dead-end approach as well, and Larry tries to get an audience with the oldest and wisest Rabbi Marshak but can’t get an appointment.
What was wrong with Larry’s chest X-Ray?
Larry finally has to go against his principles and take the bribe money to pay the lawyer fees. But things appear to only worsen when he gets a call from his doctor saying he needs to talk with Larry immediately, indicating that Larry has developed some severe lung condition.
A Serious Man: Ending Explained in Short
The tornado at the ending of A Serious Man symbolizes a world beyond human control, full of absurdity and uncertainty. The chaos from the outside world begins to seep again.
The movie’s final scene is a strange one. According to the weather report, a tornado is approaching the village. The Hebrew teacher proposes that the students, including Danny, go to the basement to wait out the bad weather. The teacher cannot open the basement door, and the boys stare at the impending tornado whirlwind, which is already very close.
In this scene, we see the kids just hanging out and looking at the storm, casually waiting for someone else to save them. They, too, are doing nothing, and as the film repeatedly shows, doing nothing will cost them their lives. We don’t know how it ends for them, just like we don’t know how it ends for Larry.
As we can see, this Coen brothers’ film has a bottomless depth of interpretation. This is possible only with masterpieces doomed to immortality.
A Serious Man: Themes
Many scenes of the movie are highly symbolic. They are permeated by the dualism of the earthly and the sacred. For example, there is a mise-en-scene when Larry climbs onto the roof of his house to fix the television antenna. The cameraman illuminates this scene in such a way that there are unambiguous associations of Larry’s stairs with the “Jacob’s ladder”, along which the angels climbed and descended. Larry glances at the neighbor’s plot and can’t look away – a beautiful naked woman is sunbathing there. The image of the pure sun and a naked woman come into contrast.
Another example is when, after finishing reading a Torah scroll, this scroll is raised above the head by one of the Jews. The man barely holds the scroll so as not to drop it and involuntarily curses: “Oh, Jesus!”. In fact, at the very climax of the Saturday morning prayer, the name of the God of another religion is involuntarily stated.
The film is conditionally divided into three parts – following the meetings of the main characters with three rabbis. They happen in sequence. The first rabbi that Larry meets is very young, somewhat inexperienced, and theoretical. The rabbi tells Larry to enjoy the contemplation of the world and try to see everything with “non-soapy” eyes. The second rabbi speaks about the world’s absurdity, and that one should not look for meaning in this absurdity; one must accept everything simply, without fuss.
Larry does not manage to get an audience with the third, oldest, and most respected rabbi, but Larry’s son meets him after the Bar Mitzvah ritual. What does the senior rabbi tell him? He quotes a verse from a song by a famous rock band (Jefferson Airplane) and then lists the band’s performers. And that’s it! Is this a rabbi’s message? No, his only advice was to be a good boy.
A Serious Man: A Complex Story In Simple Words
There are movies in which complex words describe simple things, and some films explain complicated things with simple words. A Serious Man is the latter.
Larry Gopnik appears to be borderline autistic. He’s trying his best to live, but the world around him is completely collapsing. Larry can’t figure out why he’s being put through so much difficulty. Larry feels he doesn’t deserve it because he didn’t do anything wrong.
Larry does not understand that his doing nothing is causing all of his problems. Larry believes the rabbis will explain the situation to him (a version of a religious psychoanalyst in religious communities). However, the junior rabbi invites Larry to look at the world with different eyes but does not explain where to get these eyes.
An experienced rabbi explains to Larry that no one knows why or how things happen. And he advises him to ignore the whys, live a regular life, command respect from his family and colleagues, and help people simply because it can never be wrong. Larry conveniently chooses to ‘help’ his beautiful neighbor.
And the wise Rabbi Marshak refuses to meet with Larry, realizing that he can do nothing to help this guy until he learns to help himself. What the rabbis don’t spell out for Larry is that he needs to sort out the relationship with his wife, take back his part of the plot from the arrogant neighbor, and get help for his brother Arthur. He needs to take action, and self-pity is going to do nothing.
In this sense, A Serious Man has certain parallels with the movie American Beauty. Lester, like Larry, was also in an existential crisis. But he changed his life dramatically. He became free. Larry doesn’t become free – neither externally nor internally. He relies on others to solve his life’s problems.
A Serious Man: What was the point?
Having received an Oscar for No Country for Old Men (2007), the Coens seem to have made A Serious Man for themselves and enjoyed every moment in the filmmaking process. There are no well-known and easily recognizable actors. In most cases, rhetorical questions are asked that no one bothers to answer. There are many rituals and terms specific to the Jewish religious community, which would seem like sheer gibberish for an unaware viewer. This is not a mass entertainer; nevertheless, it holds attention and interest until the very end.
The Coens seem to have taken the area of residence from their own childhood. It’s filled with gingerbread houses with large garages that don’t have enough trees around. In this world, Larry Gopnik sincerely dreams of being the epitome of a serious and rational person who does the right thing. But the whole world around Larry seems to conspire against him, even his body. Every aspect of life crumbles for Larry as he stubbornly seeks reason and advice.
In A Serious Man, as never before, the Coens touched on the subject of the Jewish religion, with a strong emphasis on tradition, terminology, and ritual. Coens swim in the theme like a fish in water, while the viewer is neither required to have similar preparation nor silent contemplation of unfamiliar ideas and images.
Emphasizing religion, the Coens essentially introduce a disembodied hero into the narrative, representing the spiritual world, which is opposed to the rationality and prudence of Larry Gopnik. Is it possible to live a life based only on calculations and mathematically verified assertions? Is it possible to live life, leaving everything to the mercy of higher powers? The Coens suggest that the truth lies somewhere in between.
A Serious Man: Final Thoughts
A Serious Man strangely balances genius and delirium. The vicissitudes of fate and unexpected coincidences are intertwined into a dense bundle of misfortunes that come to the head of a righteous family man, and the main question is only why this happens. Coens philosophically suggest stepping back from introspection and just moving on. Maybe this is not the worst advice?
What were your thoughts on the plot and ending of A Serious Man? Do drop your comments below.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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