A Serious Man: Can life be understood?

8 minutes

‘What’s going on?’ How seeking meaning is futile in the Coen Brothers’ universe

The Coen Brothers’ 2009 film A Serious Man tells the story of a mild-mannered physics professor, Larry Gopnik, whose comfortable existence in the US suburbs of the 1960s implodes in a manner recalling the fate of the prophet Job. Like many other Coen Brothers films, it was both lauded and criticised for its unflinching bleakness and various enigmatic narrative contours, including an opening scene that’s seemingly unrelated to the rest of the plot; one character’s fixation on an incomprehensible equation; and an inscrutable parable relayed by a rabbi. In this video essay, Evan Puschak (also known as The Nerdwriter) contextualises A Serious Man’s moving parts, revealing how the Coen Brothers’ underlying philosophy – undercutting Hollywood convention – is one in which suffering and even existence lack meaning. For Larry Gopnik, that’s not good news because it means there’s no easy answer to his desperate refrain: ‘What’s going on?’

Video by The Nerdwriter

Essay/Architecture & Landscape
Intimate spaces

In his Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard created a philosophy of at-homeness, rich in emotion and memory

Gillian Darley

Essay/Education
An unlikely triumph

In its first century the American higher-education system was a messy, disorganised joke. How did it rise to world dominance?

David Labaree