After a short and strange prologue, we move on to 1967 and meet the main character Larry Gopnik (played by the excellent character actor Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of physics theory, whose life on the surface seems normal. He enjoys a permanent position as a professor at the university, his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) is usually at home and they have two children. However, things below the surface have a different course – Judith wants a traditional Jewish divorce to marry neighbor Sai (Fred Melamed), who wants friendly contact with Larry, the daughter is obsessed with her appearance, the son smokes marijuana as he approaches the bar mitzvah, while his brother Arthur (Richard Kind) has gambling problems and sleeps on the couch. As a result of the conflict with Judith, Larry moves out of the house and goes to the motel.
The situation at work is also becoming complicated. The student persuades Larry to change his grade and leaves an envelope with money on the table. If he reports a bribe, the student will deny everything, but if he does not change his grade, the student will tell everyone how he took the money. Larry has no intention of giving in and changing his mind, but gossip is slowly beginning to circulate and he realizes that he is in the middle of a great ethical problem.
The Cohen brothers have proven so many times that they are able to put their esoteric ideas into action effectively, providing viewers with both visual and philosophical pleasure. Characteristic for these authors, the final blow arrives in the final minutes, but the journey to that final blow is also interesting. The whole story can be reduced to the expression of an extended joke with a man when there is nothing that has not happened, in which one joke continues to another like a magic scarf while performing a trick. There are two types of jokes – the first is related to the progression as things get worse and worse for Larry, and the second is his search for meaning in the mighty paradoxes that befell him.
Scenario from scene to scene increasingly increases Larry’s suffering by placing him in situations from which he simply cannot emerge victorious. In addition to the above-mentioned problems and troubles with lawyers, he also has the fact that Judith wants to participate in the house even though he was expelled from it, so Larry sets up a TV antenna and gives money to his demanding daughter. An additional plot arises when Larry, under the influence of literally everyone around him, visits a rabbi in search of advice. Every rabbi’s advice and sermons confuse him further, just as his students are confused by Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty (probably the most famous print from this film).
Larry loses control of every segment of his life and it remains for him to look for reasons in the rabbi’s wise answers. He is confused because, although he is challenged from all sides (a student with a bribe or a neighbor who seduces him), he is an exemplary man and a believer, and he has a bad fate. In the end, he realizes that even faith does not provide him with concrete answers and that there is simply no specific culprit. His understanding of the theory of cause and effect is too naive for a world that brings him dissatisfaction. Larry’s orderly life has become chaotic and unpredictable, a hard experience in which the old rules have changed, and he can only wonder why bad things happen to good people.
And Serious Man is a film that alternates between gloomy despair and the characteristic black humor of the Cohen brothers. What is the main source of comedy in this case are the clumsy attempts of the main character to fit into family, business and religious molds. The discomfort created by his misfortune is replaced by laughter due to the bizarreness of the situations in which he finds himself. Stulbarg brings his hero facial expressions and gestures characteristic of a helmet from Jewish comedies, whose rhetorical reason makes him laugh and sad.