- Image via Wikipedia
Over the weekend, I watched the Oscar-nominated (Best Motion Picture of the Year & Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen) film, “A Serious Man“. The cast is a great mix of instantly recognizable veteran actors and fresh faces, each attached to a well-developed character, no matter the amount of screen time. The visuals of the Midwest of 1967 ably draw you in, giving a frame of reference for the intertwined story of father and son, Larry and Danny Gopnik, each propelled toward a crossroads in life.
The Coen brothers are as much master craftsmen of the screenplay as they are of the film as a whole. Each conversation that takes place feels very natural while also advancing the story at a carefully measured pace. The only time any of the characters is played against the expected is when they are involved in one of the dream sequences that are sprinkled throughout. And, while I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the Jewish customs portrayed, it felt as though each i was dotted and t was crossed without becoming pedantic. In other words, I felt that I was given enough information that I could follow along without breaking the flow of the story.
One deftly wielded technique that is used almost to perfection is the passage of time that occurs out of view of the two main characters (I cannot recall any scenes that did not involve at least one of them). Minor characters go off and take part in activities that we only learn about when their orbits reconnect with the main storyline. As in life, we, as observers of the main character’s view, are only aware of those things that occur elsewhere when we are told about them secondhand, and then only to the detail that others are willing to share. There is likely a whole other movie that could be made, entitled “Uncle Arthur’s Off Screen Adventures”.
If you enjoy wordsmithing or witty dialogue, pay particular attention to the scenes between Larry and the Korean student or the student’s father (there are two of the former and one of the latter). Subtly delivered, they are darkly comedic gold.