The Coens’ metaphysical movies


Since the 1960s, Woody Allen has made dozens of movies that have mixed entertainment and exploration of metaphysical issues. Perhaps Allen was an inspiration for Oscar-winning movie makers Joel and Ethan Coen, whose latest film, "A Serious Man," opens Friday. New York Times writer Franz Lidz probed the brothers' spiritual subtexts in a Sunday feature, "Biblical Adversity in a '60s Suburb." The opening quote below comes from a Jewish rabbi:

"The conceit of 'A Serious Man'--and I mean that in the most literal sense -- is that God would have anything whatever to do with the inanities of human existence."

Filled with unfamiliar faces, "A Serious Man," which opens on Oct. 2, is both a Job-like parable of Jewish angst in a 1960s Midwestern suburb and a bleakly antic meditation on divine intent, the certainty of uncertainty and the mysteries of Jefferson Airplane lyrics. (The film opens with the quotation "Accept with simplicity everything that happens to you" and ends with the disclaimer "No Jews were hurt in the making of this motion picture.") The 14th feature by the Coen brothers, the Oscar-winning writer-directors of "Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men," "A Serious Man" is also the most personal project yet by two filmmakers sometimes dismissed as smart but bloodless.

Writers and critics who cover pop culture often overlook spiritual themes, so I warmly offer a GetReligion "thumbs up" to Lidz. Still, his article left me wanting to know more about the Coens, their sense of Jewishness and the ways their values inform their films. That's why I am so happy that Chicago Sun-Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani wrote The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers (Zondervan):

Beginning with Blood Simple, the story of a man who has grave doubts about his wife's fidelity and what happens when he attempts to uncover the "truth," the Coens have boldly engaged serious existential questions with darkly intelligent humor.

The bulk of Falsani's book consists of well-crafted summaries of the Coens' films in which she illustrates their humor, seriousness and deep intelligence. She then follows with brief meditations on the spiritual themes the films raise.

Pass the popcorn and a copy of the Talmud!

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