Hashem and the Record Club

Last night I watched the movie A Serious Man, which I must confess is the first Coen brothers film I’ve seen. It is powerful in its subtlety. The movie was recommended to me as a sort of “modern retelling of Job,” but in a sense it has many inversions of the Job narrative, and is all the more thought-provoking as a result.

My favorite moments were the following. First, when Arthur complains to his brother Larry that God hasn’t given him anything. It puts the rest of the movie in a different perspective. While we’ve watched the main character’s life unravel from his own point of view, from his brother’s perspective, he has it all. And this theme of seeing things from a different perspective, introduced by a young rabbi, seemed trite at the time, and yet in a sense it is the most profound affirmation in the movie, when it is articulated not as a theory put forward by a religious professional, but as a person who thinks he has lost everything finds his life is envied by one who has even less.
Another key moment was the ending, with its echoes of the appearance of God in a whirlwind at the end of Job. As the tornado approaches the school, and the doctor calls to discuss X-rays he had taken, once again our perception changes. As illness and death loom near, other issues seem to pale yet again in significance.
Also poignant and significant was the theme of the Columbia Record Club running through the film, eventually resulting in a conversation in which Larry insists he “didn’t do anything” (as he had also said on other occasions in the movie), to which the record club representative replies that not doing anything is what one “does” in order to receive a given month’s selection. This was so wonderfully symbolic of other aspects of life in which “not doing anything” is a course of action that can lead to dire consequences.
The movie explores the relationship between religion and mystery in interesting ways, and gets its message across about the importance of perspective and perception. It is very dark comedy, if one wants to think of it as comedy at all. Somehow
Any thoughts from others who have seen it?
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  • I haven't seen this one yet, but you've got me interested. The Coen Brothers produce good stuff. If you like the classics, and appreciate a Bible salesman gone bad, you'd like O Brother Where Art Thou — my favorite film they've made.

  • Well, I guess I have seen a Coen Brothers film – I didn't realize O Brother Where Art Thou was by them!

  • You should have your credentials revoked for not having seen more of their films. Bad James. Bad James.Go get David Dark's Everyday Apocalypse and read the chapter on the Coens. Then watch:Raising ArizonaThe Big LebowskiLadykillersIf you want my SBL paper from D.C., "O Father Where Art Thou? The God Behind the Scenes of the Coen Brothers Movies," I'll see what I can do. Sheesh… Not watched the Coens…

  • On a more jovial note:People were widely comparing Serious Man with Job. I think there's something to that.In part, I like that theory because I think that No Country for Old Men is the Qoheleth of their canon.

  • I saw Ladykillers, and so it appears I'm in a category even worse than "People who have not seen movies by the Coen brothers", namely "People who have seen movies by the Coen brothers without realizing they are by the Coen brothers."

  • I loved the references to Bob Jones Univ. in LadyKillers. That was classic irony, a black lady giving her money to BJU