Leave it to the Coen brothers to slip in seemingly unannounced.
A Serious Man had little fanfare when it hit theaters in the fall; now it's an Oscar-nominated best picture.
Their films often are mysteries to film audiences and even staunch fans, and A Serious Man has its own strangeness. Larry Gopnik teaches physics at a small university in Minnesota in 1967. He specializes in theoretical ideas: Schrödinger's Paradox and the Heisenberg Principle. You might think of them as notions only God or Einstein ponder. Speaking of God, the supreme being apparently wants to test Larry (played with appropriate weariness by Michael Stuhlbarg).
He's up for tenure, but an anonymous letter has put that in jeopardy.
A record company harasses him about an unpaid bill. His mad brother (Richard Kind) has moved in with him. His kids have no respect for him, and his wife, Judith (Sari Lennick), wants a divorce, having taken up with an older widower named Sy (Fred Melamed), who wants to be adult about the whole thing because he's a "serious man."
There are temptations. The topless sunbathing neighbor, whom Larry spots from the roof while he's fixing the antenna for his ungrateful son who is always complaining about poor reception, offers Larry pot, and a disgruntled student slips him money to change his grade.
Joel and Ethan Coen — born in the 1950s — grew up in the heavily Jewish Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, making the setting at least somewhat autobiographical. As for what the brothers are trying to get to — well, that can be argued about in any of their films.
The same thing can be said about A Serious Man, which — as we watch Larry's woes pile up — can be seen as a joke about God or a joke about man, the paradoxes of life or the complications we create.
A Serious Man retails for $29.98 or $36.98 on Blu-ray.