Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Serious Man

Aerial Act

There is a God and he is pissed.

By Artislav Mel ::: philms ::: ::: Read the whole thing



I can’t wait to come back and read this after I watch the movie!  This review/analysis looks great!

Posted by Retro Hound on 19 Feb 10 at 08:37 PM

If anything this analysis is a joke. Just like the movie Artislav has given many explanations that are not really explanations. The movie is meaningless.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08 Mar 10 at 07:55 PM

Dear Jake,

You must feel cheated, to watch a meaningless movie and then read a pointless article.  Sucks to be you.

The trouble with something meaningless is that one never really knows it until the whole she-bang is over.  Kind of like life, don’t you think?

Posted by Da WWWiz on 08 Mar 10 at 11:53 PM

I wasn’t trying to insult the author of the article, but good effort trying to insult me in turn. I did give my take after all, didn’t I? I know the movie, like the analysis, puts a lot of “meaning” on the table but doesn’t draw anything substantial from them. The refusal to give meaning and instead false meaning says to me this movie is more about nihilism than anything else, if that could be one true answer to the confusion surrounding this movie.

Here, read this:

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12 Mar 10 at 04:42 PM

Hi Again Jake,

First, I introduce myself as Mark LeClair, the author of Aerial Act and of the comment #3.  I have a fondness for ‘nom de plume’ and write under a variety of silly names.

Regarding my previous comment: it is about the irony that you pursue an avid interest in what you consider ‘meaningless’ and ’ a joke’.  What is in it for you, Jake, you rapscallion? 

As for me -  I think the Coen’s are frightfully brilliant and my admiration of their work has and continues to provide me with great enjoyment.

More fun than money can buy.

Posted by Da WWWiz on 13 Mar 10 at 01:27 AM

Ah, now I get it. Hahaha. Okay…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 15 Mar 10 at 01:50 PM

I got the ambivelty of life, but saw it differently. As with Schroedinger cat and the Goy’s teeth, there is a message, but the answer is “Who cares”. At first I tried to look into the movie to decipher it’s meaning and then realized that the meaning is that there doesn’t have to be one.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 25 Mar 10 at 02:59 PM

I think the author of this article has succumbed to the same desperate hunt for meaning as Gopnik in the film. He is a physics professor and at the same time existentially confused, but unwilling to “accept the mystery”, as the father of the Asian student encourages him to.

The way to be “a serious man” is given in the quote: “receive with simplicity everything that happens to you”, which is then demonstrated by the “dybbuk” Rabbi in the opening chapter, by his stoic, humoristic reaction to being fatally stabbed.

Larry goes through life in the opposite way, being a physicist, trying to figure out the underlying rules of the universe (an approach which is put in a bad light because his deeply dysfunctional brother goes all the way with it). His son demonstrates the proper approach: Don’t wonder “why does God send me a tornado?”, just accept the mystery.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07 Apr 10 at 08:46 AM


As the author of Aerial Act, I appreciate your comments.  It seems that you have received the message as the Coen’s intended.

However, there is a glaring fallacy in your analysis.  The film itself is most decidedly NOT simple. 

I ask you or any challenger: why must a ‘simple message’ be delivered with any complexity, much less the staggering mindfuck that is ‘A Serious Man’?  What is the validity of such a technique?

I also suggest you read some Rashi, the author of the quote that opens the movie.  Rashi is a notorious Kabbalist whose work does nothing at all to refine the difficult problems that plague human kind.  Rashi does not practice as he preaches.  Neither do the Coen’s.

You accept the mystery.  I aim to challenge it.

Artislav Mel

Posted by Da WWWiz on 07 Apr 10 at 05:01 PM


Well, i didn’t mean i had any wish to be A Simple Man, or if it was something to strife for, merely that the dogma seemed to be that that’s the way to do it.

As in “if you want to get into heaven, this is the way to do it: There is a violent, irrational god who sends all kinds of disasters at you for no conceivable reason, and you must love him unquestioningly, and accept his actions. Then you’ll go to heaven.”

I think the staggering mindfuck of the Coen Brothers’ film is to awaken the curosity and desperate search for meaning in the viewer, which is a very human reaction, which must, however, be resisted, if you want to follow this dogma and be a serious man. That’s why it’s all red herrings and no resolution.

If you live in Larry’s world where there IS a god out to get you, i guess you’d better submit and love him.

For my world, however, I prefer the physics approach :P

- Søren Andersen

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07 Apr 10 at 06:45 PM

For now a quick share on a supreme comment about finding meaning where there is none… (and isn’t all meaning sourced only from our conscious giving of it?)

The Tale of Scrotty McBooggerballs…

Season 14 Episode 3

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 23 Apr 10 at 02:33 PM

You’re trying too hard, it’s showing.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05 May 10 at 05:45 AM

@ durr nom de plume durr

Trying too hard?  You’re probably right.  I had the same problem during when I worked as a moyle.

We all have our short-comings.

- Artislav Mel

Posted by Da WWWiz on 05 May 10 at 08:04 PM

a note for readers…

there is a neat pun in the name “Larry Storch”.  Storch was star of Danny’s fave TV show called “F-Troop”.  Larry Storch becomes “Larry’s Torch” and gives a description of The Shield of David.  The Hebrew letter “VAV” of DVD transliterates into the English letter “F”.

A delicate trick and worthy of finely tuned investigation.

Artislav Mel

Posted by Da WWWiz on 04 Aug 10 at 03:45 PM

This article has some great points, but if suffers from making us fill in blanks that could be better explained.  Also, it looks way too far into the film at times (qoph as the 100 cash he ‘probably’ gave the son? 100 as qoph as cough?  This is the kind of stuff that lets professors keep their jobs without anyone really noticing.  Most of it is insightful though.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 21 Sep 10 at 05:06 AM

Mr DeSantis,

Thank you for your kind comments.

I can not tell you how many times it has been suggested that I “read to much into things”. Well, have you ever heard of Zeno’s paradox?  You might find it interesting.  It postulates that to reach any specific point by linear progress or to reach a new shape by expansion, one must aim “beyond” the proposed effect. 

In a foot race, you can not cross the finish unless you are travelling beyond the finish line.  Poetically… “...a little learning is a dangerous thing / drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring…”

Deep waters are the coolest - and sober the senses.

As for professors - well, they can have their jobs and work them too.  I am all in favor of professors keeping their jobs.  The have bills, just like the rest of us.

- Artislav Mel, author of “Aerial Act”.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 23 Sep 10 at 03:23 AM

I fail to see the connection between Harold Loyd and Larry.

At the end of Saftey Last, Harold gets to the top of the building and kisses the girl. He switches identities to keep his whole grand scheme going, he boasts to his love interest to fool her into thinking that he’s more than he is…

Larry isn’t anything like that. Larry is literal, and seems to, for the most part, be very surface. He’s not passionate, he’s not inspired.

You’re connection between the two makes it seem like you’re reaching. I mean, ok they both wear glasses.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 24 Sep 10 at 12:36 PM

I see this movie as an expression of Jewish simultaneous pride and guilt for having created the atomic bomb.
Obviously the lion’s share of the great psyisicts of the 19th and 20th centuries was Jewish, and of course Openheimer and Einstein were, it’s a dull fact.
Larry teaches the same subject, and the fact of his being Jewish in regards to the subject can’t be over looked. They chose to make him of that field because that is who they want, conscienceously or unconscienceously, to test/punish. As it turns out, he fails the test.
The movie is about how Jews are brilliant, and how in some cases that leads them to make great advances in physics and how in some cases it causes madness (and go after the ‘mentaculas’ instead of being productive, the mentaculas is just a stand in for mental illness and obsessive compulsive behaviors).
The student who struggles in his class is symbolic of the Axis powers of WW2, i.e. the Japs. Larrys struggle with him is a parable of the push and pull that Jews experience over the atomic bomb being dropped on Japan. On one hand it murdered thousands upon thousands of innocent people, on the other if it weren’t for the Jews involved, the Nazis would have had the bomb first.
The storm that takes his son at the end is more fear, yes that the “blood line” will be wiped out, and that in the end it will have been people like Larry’s doing. It’s symbolic of the wind that’s produced by the mushroom cloud. The Jefferson Airplane reference is just nostalgia, a look back at the plea for peace that was the hippy movement in the late 60’s, it’s literal.
Don’t you want somebody to love, Mr. Openheimer?
Openheimer was an extremely intelligent and extremely lonely man. Angry chap really.
Some have speculated that the reason for there being so many Jews who have excelled as physicists is because the Jewish religion doesn’t harp on absolutes. So Larry, in trying to figure out these rules of the universe is gifted and also cursed, and in the end he’s punished for failing to stick to his moral code, what he knew was right in the first place, that in the end that was what he should have done, what Openheimer should also have done. What all people have to do; not fail their moral code.

But that’s just my take.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 24 Sep 10 at 01:39 PM

@ Xerocky

Larry is, as the would be “serious man” (“safety first”), a negative reflex of Lloyd.  But I’m just sharing a feeling there, not really any profound insight.

As for the rest of your “take”, we are speaking the same language.


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 24 Sep 10 at 08:59 PM

The movie seems to be a Rorschach test.  There’s no one correct interpretation.  Artislav has brilliant insights, but so much of the article seems to be pure free association.  Instead of ASM I thing the movie should be called A Serious Jew, because that’s what Larry is.  Larry is a Jewish Job, but remember that Job was a gentile.  Job was righteous, but he complained to God and challenged Him.  Larry tries his darndest to be a good Jew, but everything goes wrong, and none of it is his fault.  But unlike Job, and unlike his brother Arthur, Larry doesn’t complain.  He is only interested in one thing, what does Hashem want of him?  He sees only one purpose in his life, to do Hashem’s will, and he doesn’t have a clue of what that is.  It is a mystery, like Schroedinger’s cat (and Artislav gets the Copenhagen interpretation wrong:  The cat is not ALIVE or DEAD. 50–50.  It is simultaneously alive and dead, existing in two quantum states.  Only when it is observed will it assume one quatum state, dead or alive.)  My personal interpretation is that Hashem’s message was in the goy’s teeth, “tiranu linoshets”, which is translated as “help me.”  As written in the online script (
the Hebrew is incorrect, incorrectly read and incorrectly translated, for the last three letters are written as nun shin tsadeh which has no Hebrew meaning, and the letter tsadeh is incorrectly transliterated as a tsayin, which is not a Hebrew letter.  The final letter should actually be an ayin, which looks almost like a tsadeh, but now the meaning of the three letters becomes “I am saved” so the meaning of the whole phrase is something like “see to it that I am saved.”  The message is to save the goy, which is totally missed when the rabbi says “who cares?”  The message is that Jews are supposed to help everyone, including goyim.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 29 Nov 10 at 01:54 PM

Dear Golem,

Thank you for your interesting comments and editorial reparations.

I agree that “there is no ONE interpretation”. Indeed, I shouldn’t wonder that there could be an INFINITE interpretation.  Nevertheless, a recent Presidential commision under the advice of The Rand Corporation, The Tri-Lateral Commision and Junior G-Man Elvis Presley has concluded that, to a certainty of 99.9999%, my interpretation is THE RIGHT ONE.

Pax,  Good Tickle Brain

Artislav Mel

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 29 Nov 10 at 09:26 PM

anybody notice that as soon as Larry changes the F to
C- the ominous phone call from his doctor happens and
the approaching storm is announced ?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06 Dec 10 at 03:55 PM

I like this F to C- observation.  I intuit some meaning in relation to musical key signatures.  The “minus sign” is used to indicate a minor key.  So the change could be read as from Fmajor to Cminor.  This type of “musical” clue chimes into the role of Larry as King David, who was a harpist.

Very interesting.

And remember that Danny’s favorite show is called “F-Troop”.

What does it mean?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06 Dec 10 at 05:52 PM

Larry was being ‘tested’ ...

when Larry ‘changed’ the Korean kid’s test score ...
he not only gave himself the “F” ... he ‘summoned’ the phone call from the Doctor.

Cue Hurricane/Storm ...

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10 Dec 10 at 03:48 PM

Here’s my take:
The movie conveys 2 things:

Life is an unfathomable shit-storm.
Religious mentors are just as inept at understanding the storm as anyone else.

The main theme in the story is an explanation of what “wisdom” is. It turns out wisdom is simply the art of pretending to understand life by a combination of making shit up and simple bluster. Wisdom – according to the Cohens, comes in three stages:

Stage 1 – Beginning Wisdom.
This is exemplified by the first Rabbi – he makes up naïve parables as if they explain things even though they’re not the least bit insightful. He’s clearly full of shit and doesn’t even understand the question he’s being asked – let offer any insight. All but the most stupid adult can see through his guise. Anyone over 12 avoids his advice. Stage 3 wise men use him as a shield – which is the only reason this guy exists. The only “wisdom” at this level is an understanding that there are suckers out there so desperate for answers that they’ll actually place some value on this low-level bullshit. His wisdom still has training wheels – and his goal is only to survive to the next stage.

Stage 2 – Intermediate Wisdom
This is the second Rabbi. He still has no idea why shit happens or if there’s any sort of pattern. He exists because he was successful in the first level of wise man training and never got caught fucking anybody he wasn’t supposed to. Now, he has gained a skill that is often misinterpreted as advanced wisdom. That skill is conveying fictitious stories that “out-mystery” the original question. These stories lend no clarity to the issue – but rather illustrate the unpredictable nature of life. Duh! That was the fucking question! Now that he’s a bit older (wiser) the intermediate wise-man has figured out that you can drown the questions about the meaning of life with a louder and even more baffling question – thus confusing the questioner long enough to escape without the transparency of the fake “wisdom” becoming obvious. You also cast an over-all pall of cynicism to fog things and lend to the air of mystery. You just keep moving fast, hoping to make it to the third, highest level of wisdom – unquestioned wisdom – before you’re caught and exposed. You assemble an impressive fortress of mysterious objects during this period to help create an aura of mystery – all the trappings of formalized religion.

Stage 3 – Unquestioned wisdom
This is the old Rabbi – who has attained the highest stage of wisdom. Everybody wants to speak to this guy because they have a memory of an old wise man who actually provided truth and wisdom at some point in their childhood and now they’ll chase that memory forever- like the heroin junkie chasing his first high. In this stage, the wise man has reached a true deep understanding of “Wisdom”. He understands that only children are stupid enough to believe your bullshit – so you limit your audience to children or the weak-minded. Your message is unbelievably simple: feed their own Pop culture bullshit directly back to them, since this is all they can hear anyway! You simply tell them exactly what they want to hear.

This immature parishioner is thus imbued with the false belief that wisdom actually exists – and will spend his adulthood trying to recreate this momentary feeling of security. Unfortunately, he’s forgotten how stupid he was in youth. His memory of security and confidence is stuck forever in puberty, but he’s grown up. He’s seen the truth – there’s no divine justice! There’s no Karma! There’s just the shit-storm! Or, the person is unbelievably stupid and stuck forever in the wide-eyed, pre-occupied, self-centered egotistical prison of dumb-assity. In this case, they continue to lap up the childish bullshit they are being fed by “wise men” their whole lives, and never grow to a point of being dissatisfied. These people are called “(religious denominational name here)”.

The truth is that religions are just as incapable of finding the “key” to life’s mysteries as any individual – as clearly presented in metaphor in the final scene of the movie as the inept rabbi fumbles with “the keys” trying to get the door to the basement open – their only chance of avoiding the approaching shit-storm.

The closest thing that exists to a true “wise man” is lost in the shuffle – forgotten on the sideline. He is the one who quietly, mutely observes others react to the shit-storm. He doesn’t pay back debts until the last possible moment – in case the shit storm overtakes the owed. He is serenely confident of uncertainty – and the most likely to experience any kind of fullfillment.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 16 Dec 10 at 04:45 PM
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