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The Scroll

No. 20: A Serious Man

A faith-based initiative

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2009, dir. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. In the Schrodinger’s Cat thought-experiment that the Coen brothers set at the center of their best film, the cat is in the box with radioactive material with a one-hour half-life; after one hour, there is a 50-50 chance the cat is dead; until the box is opened, the cat is both dead and alive. A Zen adherent would strategically, meaningfully, and joyfully forfeit understanding the cat’s state; a scientist would know that it’s the math that matters: The situation demonstrates the unconventionality of quantum physics. But to the Coens, the situation is an illustration of the Jewish faith in God, whose quirk (not quark) is to simultaneously possess a feel, an even comic comprehension, of the ridiculousness of that faith. The Jew must not be satisfied with the advanced physics that either do or don’t kill the cat, and sees the Zen “both alive and dead” pronunciation for the dodge it is. With a wistful shrug, he accepts the unknowability of the cat’s state while affirming one side anyway. A Serious Man shows why the Jews invented atheism, but the film is not atheistic. It also has a prelude in Yiddish, and the funniest bar mitzvah ever committed to film.

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hannah says:

You are wrong, the funniest Bar Mitzvah scene was in the movie, the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz!

Lynne T says:

Most of my film reviewer friends, some Jewish but not all, HATED this movie. I didn’t care much for the opening scene. It seemed to be stuck in there for no apparent reason, but found much of it brilliant.

This film should be listed in the first ten or fifteen. A Serious Man works on so many levels, Jews who have grown-up in the Midwest instantly appreciate and understand this film(neighbor who hunts). Also, consider the Talmudic and Jewish cultural references. It is an update on the Book of Job. The opening scene references The Dybuk and the Jewish, neurotic, narschkeit, that bad luck somehow follows someone…isn’t that what so many Woody Allen characters reference ? Never get too comfortable, there is always danger on the horizon , etc. A Serious Man deserves a more serious thoughtful look.


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No. 20: A Serious Man

A faith-based initiative

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