616: DVD release of “A Serious Man” adds to the rich mystery of faith

rom out of a whirlwind,

the LORD said to Job:
“Why do you talk so much

when you know so little?
Now get ready to face me!
Can you answer

the questions I ask?”
Job 38:1-3

    This week we’re exploring fresh questions that can help us bridge painful chasms in religious life.
    Monday, we shared an excerpt of Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity: 10 Questions That Are Transforming the Faith.” Then, on Wednesday, Brian himself will stop by ReadTheSpirit to talk about these questions he’s raising.
    But, Brian isn’t alone in raising great questions! We’ve also got masterful “questioners” in popular media right now—especially the Coen brothers. Here’s our earlier interview with Cathleen Falsani on her provocative new book for small groups about the spiritual lessons raised in the Coen brothers’ films. (You know, like “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Miller’s Crossing,” etc.)
    TODAY, we’re sharing some very cool news for Coen bothers fans! “A Serious Man” goes on sale today on DVD from Amazon (click here to visit the Amazon page).

Talk about big questions! And questions within questions!
    If you’re just hearing about “A Serious Man,” today, here’s what you need to know: This is one of the most provocative and puzzling of the Coen brothers’ movies to date. For anyone familiar with the Book of Job, it’s clear that the movie parallels the ancient story in startling ways—including the appearance of a terrifying whirlwind just like the one in the ancient saga of Job.
    But, as Cathleen Falsani points out in her book: These brothers absolutely refuse to engage in analysis of their own films. Their movies speak for themselves, they say like a couple of wise old rabbis refusing to make things simple for their students. To learn the lessons—hey, you’ve got to do the work!
    Cathleen’s book is one helpful tool in that very enjoyable process of exploring their movies.

    But, today? Now, we’ve all got this new DVD—and it includes some very intriguing extras. The best “extra” here is a sort-of, kind-of interview with Joel and Ethan Coen on why they made this film.
    They sort-of, kind-of hint at a few things that people should watch closely in their movie. For example, “A Serious Man” opens with a bizarre folk tale that seems to have nothing to do with the movie itself.
    Or is this folk tale really unrelated?
    Curiously, the Coens spend a good deal of time in their new making-of-the-movie feature (included on the new DVD in “extras”) insisting that people should pay attention to this opening tale.
    Joel says: “The movie starts with a story that takes place presumably somewhere in eastern Europe near the beginning of the previous century. And it’s spoken in Yiddish. These first five or ten minutes of the movie don’t really have any direct relationship to the rest of the movie.”
    Oh, yeah?
    The brothers’ deadpan comments about the Yiddish tale are followed in this making-of-the-movie feature by Executive Producer Robert Graf saying, “I don’t necessarily want to comment on what the guys mean by it, but it creates an interesting set of resonances with the rest of the story.”
    This is about as big an elbow in the ribs moviegoers are ever going to get from the Coens saying to us: Look at the opening Yiddish tale! Look at what happens! Get it? Get it?
    Without spoiling the movie, I will say that the opening Yiddish parable involves a poor family struggling with horrific experiences—until the woman finally shuts the door and declares, “Blessed is the Lord. Good riddance to evil.”
    It’s as though we’ve been shown an epitaph to Job’s saga as a prelude to “A Serious Man.”

    Now, I have good friends—you may, too—who either hate this movie or have no interest in seeing a story set in 1967 in a Midwestern Jewish community where almost nothing of any significance actually happens during two hours of viewing time.
    I’ve got to say, though: This movie is rapidly growing on me as one of my own all-time Coen favorites.
    If “No Country for Old Men” chilled you to the bone—then, “A Serious Man” tells a similar Job-like story but with great affection from start to finish. The Coen brothers’ affection for this film is obvious in the new making-of-the-movie feature on the DVD. If you’re a true Coen fan, pick up the DVD just to see these extras.

    So, that’s my perspective on the film.
    We know from a previous story we published about this movie that readers feel very strongly about “A Serious Man” and the brothers Coen. Please, tell us what you think! Email us with links to your own reviews of the film and tell us why readers should come read your take on this.
    In other words: Let’s talk! The address is …
    [email protected]


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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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