The Coens rewrite the Book of Job.
“Please, accept the mystery.” That’s Coen brothers stalwart Steve Park—best remembered as Frances McDormand’s lonely old high school acquaintance in Fargo—in probably the best scene from A Serious Man, in which he plays a father who badgers physics professor Larry Gopnik into accepting a booby-trapped bribe in exchange for a passing grade for his (Park’s character’s) son. Arguably the most wickedly funny film in the Coens’ catalogue—and misread by some upon its release as a minor work—A Serious Man might also be the richest, owing to its earnest appreciation for Park’s cryptic advice: to marvel at mysteries that can’t possibly be comprehended.
In his first major role in a film after a storied career in theatre and on television, Michael Stuhlbarg nails it as Gopnik, our put-upon Minnesotan Jewish hero. He’s a 1960s Job who’s subject to a slow creep of bad luck that inches its way into every part of his life, from his tenure review process—not to worry, his superior assures him: being investigated for bribery doesn’t necessarily mean his case is damaged—to his marriage.
Stuhlbarg is supported by a terrific cast, including Fred Melamad as the insufferable Sy Ableman, a widower who gently announces his intention to marry Larry’s wife, as if it’s the most reasonable request in the world, and then goes so far as to suggest that he quickly vacate his own home, without once modulating his tone. (“Larry, Larry, Larry,” he insists, “I think the Jolly Rodger is the best course of action. It has a pool.”)
The film screens as part of the Films by Design series, which showcases films selected for IIDEX Canada’s Toronto Design Week. It will be introduced by Ian Chodikoff, editor for Canadian Architect Magazine, who will also lead a post-screening discussion.