A Serious Man (2009) - Rotten Tomatoes

A Serious Man (2009)



Critic Consensus: Blending dark humor with profoundly personal themes, the Coen brothers deliver what might be their most mature -- if not their best -- film to date.

Movie Info

"A Serious Man" is the story of an ordinary man's search for clarity in a universe where Jefferson Airplane is on the radio and "F-Troop" is on TV. It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik, a physics professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith that she is leaving him. She has fallen in love with one of his more pompous colleagues, Sy Ableman, who seems to her a more substantial person than the feckless Larry. Larry's unemployable brother Arthur is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny is a discipline problem and a shirker at Hebrew school, and his daughter Sarah is filching money from his wallet in order to save up for a nose job. While his wife and Sy Ableman blithely make new domestic arrangements, and his brother becomes more and more of a burden, an anonymous hostile letter-writer is trying to sabotage Larry's chances for tenure at the university. Also, a graduate student seems to be trying to bribe him for a passing grade while at the same time threatening to sue him for defamation. Plus, the beautiful woman next door torments him by sunbathing nude. Struggling for equilibrium, Larry seeks advice from three different rabbis. Can anyone help him cope with his afflictions and become a righteous person -- a mensch -- a serious man?more
Rating: R (for language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Directed By: , ,
Written By: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
In Theaters:
On DVD: Feb 9, 2010
Box Office: $9.2M
Focus Features - Official Site


Michael Stuhlbarg
as Larry Gopnik
Richard Kind
as Uncle Arthur
Fred Melamed
as Sy Ableman
Sari Lennick
as Judith Gopnik
Amy Landecker
as Mrs. Samsky
Alan Mandell
as Rabbi Marshak
Adam Arkin
as Divorce Lawyer
Allen Lewis Rickman
as Shtetl Husband
Yelena Shmulenson
as Shtetl Wife
Peter Breitmayer
as Mr. Brandt
Brent Braunschweig
as Mitch Brandt
Simon Helberg
as Rabbi Scott
David Kang
as Clive Park
Aaron Wolff
as Danny Gopnik
Jessica McManus
as Sarah Gopnik
Ari Hoptman
as Arlen Finkle
Michael Tezla
as Dr. Sussman
George Wyner
as Rabbi Nachtner
Michael Lerner
as Solomon Schultz
Benjamin Portnoe
as Danny's Reefer Buddy
Jon Kaminski Jr.
as Mike Fagle
Ronald Schultz
as Hebrew School Teache...
Raye Birk
as Dr. Shapiro
Charles Brin
as Hebrew School Teache...
Stephen Park
as Clive's Father
James Cada
as Cop #1
Jane Hammill
as Larry's Secretary
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for A Serious Man

Critic Reviews for A Serious Man

All Critics (210) | Top Critics (46)

The Coens may play around with that tradition, they may disparage it or mock it. But they are irrevocably a part of it, and that's all to the good.

Full Review… | July 6, 2010
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic

If you're puzzled by the Coen Brothers' horrific comedies, this is the closest thing you'll get to an explanation.

Full Review… | July 6, 2010
Top Critic

It's methodical, distancing and sarcastic, like all of their movies. And like all of them, it's exciting cinema, "eminently watchable," as one of its characters would say.

Full Review… | June 1, 2015
Stop Smiling

This might be the Coen Brothers' best film. I suspect they think so too. Even if you sense they can't quite grasp what they've stumbled across here, and surely don't want to.

Full Review… | June 22, 2013

For all the droll wit on display, it's hard to warm to the Coens' chilly parable. Is Larry's suffering the work of God or the Devil, or just the random chaos of an indifferent universe? Arch-ironists to their fingertips, the Coens aren't telling.

Full Review… | August 2, 2012
Movie Talk

I guess gleeful misanthropy wasn't enough for the Coen Brothers. Now they want to make it clear that God ... excuse me, Hashem ... is an unforgiving bastard.

Full Review… | April 20, 2011
Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

Audience Reviews for A Serious Man


The Coen brothers chose the perfect actors for this hilarious farce, their most personal work to date, which splendidly combines dark humor and Jewish existential questions, and I can easily imagine them saying that, if not even God gives us all the answers, why the hell should they?

Carlos Magalh„es

Super Reviewer


After a really interesting and haunting prologue, this film is a 90 minutes collection of uncomfortable situations for the protagonist and viewer that fails to get a point across, produce laughter or even entertain on any level. Maybe you have to be Jewish to appreciate the character's struggle. I can safely say that I simply didn't get it. Shocking, that this came from the Coen Brothers.

Jens S.

Super Reviewer

I've watched it a few times now, and even though I still don't have it all figured out (as if one is even supposed to), things become a little less hazy with each viewing. This is a great type of film to discuss long after it has ended.

The Coens have made some strange and off-the-wall films, but this one may just take the cake. In terms of style, it most closely resembles The Man Who Wasn't There. That was their most serious film. This one is also quite serious, and very dark, but there's still some humor, much like how No Country For Old Men had humor, even if it was subtle. Had I understood more of the references, I probably would have found it even funnier, but as it stands, I still laughed a bit throughout, even if I did so in an awkward and uneasy way.

Some of this film escaped me, as I am not Jewish, but, as a Catholic, I found myself relating to some things, as Catholic guilt and Jewish guilt are very similar, and the interactions Larry has with the Rabbis are similar to things I've experienced from being Catholic.

This is an odd and awkward film, but I think that's why I liked it. It's not so obtuse and out there in a David Lynch kind of way, but this is definitely a film for a limited audience. One reviewer on here (hypathio7) called it the New Fiddler on the Roof- something that actually fits quite well. I see it as a loose take on The Book of Job, but Fiddler works too.

The look of this film is just fantastic. Aesthetically and with the decor and stuff...wow...big noses, huge glasses...the hairstyles....the clothes...the cars...everything is top notch. They nailed the look of the late 60s perfectly. The music rules too, I love that Jefferson Airplane figures prominently into things, and works as a pay off to a great joke.

As should be expected, the writing, direction, and camera work are top-notch. Some have said that this is the type of movie you get to make after winning an Oscar. I agree. Burn After Reading was done after they won the Oscar, but after that, the Coens went all in on this, and as a result, have created one of their most astounding, meaty, and thought provoking films.

The performances are dynamite, and I like that the two most well known actors in the film are only like medium well known in the mainstream (Kind and Arkin). It was fun seeing Lerner in a brief cameo too (he has previously worked with the Coens for those who didn't know). Using unknowns for the rest of the cast was an excellent decision. I hope to see them in more films in the future.

Drawing on the counterculture, many aspects of Jewish culture and religion, personal experiences (although this film is not autobiographical), math and physics, and a ton of other stuff, this film is some heavy shit, but it's not ponderous, pretentious, or boring, even if it is rather slow. Yeah, it's not for everyone, but for those that can get on the wavelength, there is a lot of greatness to be found here.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

A Serious Man Quotes

Sy Ableman: No one's playing the blame game here.
– Submitted by Thomas P (2 years ago)
Rabbi Scott: No, of course not. I am the junior rabbi. And it's true, the point-of-view of somebody who's older and perhaps had similar problems might be more valid. And you should see the senior rabbi as well, by all means. Or even Minda if you can get in, he's quite busy. But maybe - can I share something with you? Because I too have had the feeling of losing track of Hashem, which is the problem here. I too have forgotten how to see Him in the world. And when that happens you think, well, if I can't see Him, He isn't there any more, He's gone. But that's not the case. You just need to remember how to see Him. Am I right? [He rises and goes to the window]
Rabbi Scott: I mean, the parking lot here. Not much to see. It is a different angle on the same parking lot we saw from the Hebrew school window. But if you imagine yourself a visitor, somebody who isn't familiar with these... autos and such... somebody still with a capacity for wonder... Someone with a fresh... perspective. That's what it is, Larry.
Larry Gopnik: Um...
Rabbi Scott: Because with the right perspective you can see Hashem, you know, reaching into the world. He is in the world, not just in shul. It sounds to me like you're looking at the world, looking at your wife, through tired eyes. It sounds like she's become a sort of... thing... a problem... a thing...
Larry Gopnik: Well, she's, she's seeing Sy Ableman.
Rabbi Scott: Well, she's, she's seeing Sy Ableman.
Larry Gopnik: She's, they're planning, that's why they want the Gett.
Rabbi Scott: Oh. I'm sorry.
Larry Gopnik: It was his idea.
Rabbi Scott: Well, they do need a Gett to remarry in the faith. But this is life. For you too. You can't cut yourself off from the mystical or you'll be-you'll remain-completely lost. You have to see these things as expressions of God's will. You don't have to like it, of course. Larry Gopnik: The boss isn't always right, but he's always the boss.
Larry Gopnik: The boss isn't always right, but he's always the boss.
Rabbi Scott: Ha-ha-ha! That's right, things aren't so bad. Look at the parking lot, Larry. [Rabbi Scott gazes out, marveling]
Rabbi Scott: Just look at that parking lot.
– Submitted by Samira O (3 years ago)
Clive Park: I received an unsatisfactory grade. In fact: F, the failing grade.
– Submitted by Scott T (4 years ago)
Larry Gopnik: The Uncertainty Principle. It proves we can't ever really know... what's going on. So it shouldn't bother you. Not being able to figure anything out. Although you will be responsible for this on the mid-term.
– Submitted by Chris P (5 years ago)

Discussion Forum

Discuss A Serious Man on our Movie forum!