Monday, February 01, 2016


Watched - perhaps for the fifth time - the Coen Brothers' film "A Serious Man." But today was a little different: I was seeing it on the big screen for the first time (Film Forum). I'd read the script - first time I've read a film script, actually. And I went with my film-buff friend L, so we spent as long after the film discussing its every twist and turn as we did in the movie theater watching it! The occasion is, of course, my ULEC, whose first assigned work is precisely "A Serious Man" (though my lecture will be about other things). When the movie came out, it was "obvious" to many viewers that it was an updating of the Book of Job - though the film directors coyly denied any such intention. The interview posted on the website of their co-producer Working Title includes this:

Is A Serious Man based on a novel [sic!], i.e. The Book of Job? 

Ethan: That’s funny, we hadn’t thought of it in that way. That does have the tornado, like we do, but we weren’t thinking of that. 

Joel: Like when we were doing O Brother [Where Art Thou], we weren’t thinking that was sort of like the Odyssey story, but we did become a little self-conscious that it was about a man returning home, and we wondered whether to make it more classical. But with this film, we weren’t thinking this was like the Book of Job. We were just making our movie. We understand the reference, but it wasn’t in our minds.

I think it was in their minds, if not entirely consciously. In any case, viewers of every religious stripe have seen it as unquestionably a Job movie... which is actually only more interesting if they really truly weren't thinking of it. Many of these viewers see parallels, like that Job has three friends and Larry Gopnik meets three rabbis, or that the film ends with a tornado, which reminds viewers of God speaking from a whirlwind near the end of the Book of Job. But those are superficial: the tornado at the end of the film recalls the start of Job, when his children are killed by a great wind destroying the house in which they were feasting. I'm not sure how I'm going to present all this on Wednesday. Part of the experiment of the class is having them watch "A Serious Man" before reading the Book of Job itself. If they single out the things in the film which I think belong to the Joban template, wouldn't that be cool!

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