This is a movie I've always liked. I think I first saw it as a rental and missed it in theaters and bought the blu-ray because I was so impressed by it. I can't quite remember where I saw it because I remember thinking it might be a stuffy period piece about existential dread, but also remember getting excited by the rythmic trailer making it look like a comedic period piece about existential dread. It's very much more the latter, but it is a comedy that makes fun of the day to day existential dread over the little things that distract us from the bigger things that can have more perminent effects on a person like a tornado or a prognosis.
My little lady had not seen this movie before, I'm not sure she had heard of it. It's one of those movies that was only briefly in the public consciousness by getting an Oscar Nomination for Best Picture in 2009. It was buried a bit by other nominees that made bigger impressions at the time: District 9, Up, Up in the Air, Avatar, Inglorius Basterds, Precious, The Blind Side, Avatar, and the winner for the category The Hurt Locker. The only film nominee I see on the list that I don't recall at all is An Education. It was a good year for film that year because of the range of genres that made an impact, some were better than others, some had better staying power than others, and some had legacies that faded over time because of the follow up movies made, or not made by their directors. Overall, I think the nominees were representative of the year but The Hurt Locker definitely wasn't the best movie out of that bunch. It was more in the middle of the pack if not toward the bottom of the list.
I think it was very interesting to see my little lady respond to the end of A Serious Man. During the movie she was a little in and out of it because she was doing a little work at home, but she was able to catch a lot of it and catch many of the great scenes like the scene with the writing on the teeth. Today she came back and mentioned a new perspective she had on what that scene means, being something that stuck with her an made her think. When the film ended she said "That was it!" She felt as though the movie was just getting started. The more she thought of it the more she warmed up to the ending. The more it made her think.
I always felt the ending had two purposes. It engages the viewer to make their own movie in their head. The imagination is very often better than what the directer can give the viewer on the screen. And that leads to the other purpose. The main character and his son both have these moments of dread throughout the movie, each problem comes and seems to cripple them but they have ways to solve their problems just before something else bad comes that also has a solution that can come. As they distract themselves with these disasters in their lives that are solvable they lose context of the bigger disasters that can't be solved, nature and illness.
Perhaps the best character of the film is the Richard Kind character who plays the brother. He is a man who is deeply flawed in his social interactions and how he pursues happiness, but he is the one that has the secret to the universe in his notebook. He can use it for anything and uses it to do the one thing that brings him joy, playing cards. That is also the one thing that gets him into trouble and into a spiral that has him face more serius legal and moral problems that will probably destroy him socially. In being the most flawed character and the character that understands everything the most, he is the one that gives us context to everything.
When his brother is complaining about his life, when Kind says something along the lines of "You have everything and I have nothing, I can't even play cards anymore," he mentions all of the things the main character has that he has forgotten. The main character has a moment of realizing that his job and family are great things in his life soon after which makes me think that perhaps in his imaginary movie after the tornado comes perhaps he has an understanding so that he can handle the hardships he faces. Then again, just before the hardships come he shows how human nature works, we can learn lessons but it's hard to implement what we learn to our actions. At least Clive gets a C- and not a C.
One final thought. Kind's character in this movie is more heartbreaking to me than his most notable film of last year Inside Out. He played Bing Bong, the imaginary friend that sacrifices himself so that the little girl can be happy. When I saw Inside out I was actually worried Bing Bong would not disappear and would be a bigger part of the girl's life. I saw that result in the movie would have had her living with an imaginary friend for the rest of her life and slipping into mental illness. I thought that would have been more troubling than her maintaining a relationship with an invisible monster... it's not as though she would forget her imaginary friend, he just wouldn't be a part of her life if he disappeared.
This is a movie I didn't have an intention to watch for the first five years or so it was streaming on Netflix because I always felt like Everyone Loves Raymond felt like a bit of a nightmare. My view on seeing this documentary about Phil Rosenthal going to Russia to adapt Everyone Love Raymond for a Russian audience is that it's actually a great study on conflict resolution and how to work with other people. Rosenthal is very funny, something I didn't realize until hearing him on the Never Not Funny Podcast and seeing his PBS documentary series I'll Have What Phil's Having. He's friendly, engaging, quirky, and likes to like things.
In this documentary he wants to like the people he's working with and the product they're creating but it takes time to realize the problems he's running into are both from translation and culture differences. "Culture clash" as Clive's father tries to explain in A Serious Man. He works out trying to show his outward expressions to encourage the Russians he's working with, he practically cross examines the fashion expert about what she wears at home as reference for what the actors should wear, and he stops to ask the writers about the hours a day they are working and the other projects they work on to get to the goal of creating the show. He gets to know the people working on the show to understand better ways to encourage their process.
One impression of this movie was that it was a funny documentary that gave me a better understanding of Everyone Love Raymond and differences in culture around the world. Another was to remind me of interactions I had on a short trip to Eastern Russia in college. But the biggest impression I had was that law students should see this movie to get ideas on alternate dispute resolution where all parties move from disagreement to being happy with a successful product.