Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Serious Man

A film that starts with a quotation from Rashi (medieval Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki) written across the screen?

Receive with simplicity everything that comes to you.

Then there's a short puzzling story about the apparent visit of a dybbuk to a family in Poland in 1890 or so.

Finally we move to Minnesota, 1967, and watch Larry Gopnik (a Job-like figure) face a ludricous series of betrayals and demands by everyone in his family, workplace, synagogue, and community.

I was completely taken with this Coen brothers film.

It's very funny--a "black comedy" one website calls it--but also profound. After all, these things happen in life. We live surrounded by assholes and narcissistic people who place impossible, contradictory demands on us. We are wounded.

Receive with simplicity? That sounds dangerously close to "Be a doormat."

Nevertheless, I think there's a way to face these people without fighting back in a way that harms them. Larry's moves may be seen as too passive for some people--but at least he doesn't choose verbal or physical abuse. I admired him.

He's like Gimpel the Fool in Isaac Beshevis Singer's story by that name. People trick him and take advantage of him, but he turns the other cheek.

Perhaps I liked it because in the hour before the film started, I had faced three family crises. One daughter hyperventilated and had to breathe into a paper bag. Another who was getting the flu (and feared swine flu) called in tears. And my husband just wanted to get to the theater on time, demanding my full attention: "You put her ahead of me!"

What a relief to relax into this hilariously dark comedy about the same sorts of crazy demands.

Receive with simplicity everything that comes to you.

No comments: