Monday, February 13, 2012

Classic Scene: A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009)

Here is a classic scene from a film that has grown on me more with every viewing. It is a scene from the Coen Bros' 2009 masterwork, A Serious Man.

Out-of-sorts physics teacher, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), is trying to find an explanation behind the inexplicable series of bad luck he has recently been having. Amongst other things, his wife has suddenly requested a Jewish divorce and he has been bribed by one of his failing students to give a passing grade. Seeking life guidance, he books a meeting with Rabbi Nachtner, but unexpectedly gets the junior Rabbi, Scott (Simon Helberg). Here's how things play out...


Larry Gopnik: "And...she wants a Get."

Rabbi Scott: [PAUSES] "A what?"

Larry Gopnik: "She wants a..."

Rabbi Scott: [Interrupting] "Oh, a Get! Uh-huh. Sure."

Larry Gopnik: "I feel like the carpet's been yanked out from under me. [STAMMERING] I don't even know which end is up. I'm not even sure how to react. I'm so confused."

Rabbi Scott: "What reasons did she give for the rupture?"

Larry Gopnik: "She didn't give reasons. Just that, you know, things haven't been going well."

Rabbi Scott: "And is that true?"

Larry Gopnik: "I guess. I don't know. She's usually right about these things. I was hoping that Rabbi Nachtner could..."

Rabbi Scott: "That he would...he would...Yes?"

Larry Gopnik: "Well, with the benefit of his life experience. No offense"

Rabbi Scott: [Chuckling] "No, of course not. I am the junior rabbi. It is true, the point of view of somebody who's older and perhaps had similar problems might be more valid, and you should see the senior rabbi as well, by all means. Or even Marshak. If you can get in, that is, he's quite busy. But maybe...[PAUSE]...Can I share something with you? Because I, too, have had the feeling of losing track of Hashem, which is the problem here. I too have forgotten how to see him in the world and when that happens, you think: "Well if I can't see him, he isn't there. He's gone." But that's not the case. You just need to remember how to see him. [CHUCKLING] Am I right? I mean...the parking lot here. [WALKS OVER TO LOOK AT THE LOT THROUGH THE WINDOW] Not much to see. But if you imagine yourself a visitor, someone who isn't familiar with these autos and such, somebody still with the capacity for wonder. Someone with a fresh...perspective. That's what it is, Larry. [GETTING ANIMATED] Because with the right perspective you can see Hashem, you know, reaching into the world. He is in the world, not just in shul. It sounds to me like you're looking at the world, looking at your wife, through tired eyes. It sounds like she has become a sort of thing. A problem. A thing."

Larry Gopnik: "She is seeing Sy Ableman."

Rabbi Scott: [LOOKING DEJECCTED] "Oh."

Larry Gopnik: "They're planning...[PAUSE]...That's why they want the Get."

Rabbi Scott: "Oh, I'm sorry."

Larry Gopnik: "It was his idea."

Rabbi Scott: "Well, they do need a Get to remarry in the faith. But...this is life. You have to see these things as expressions of God's will. You don't have to life it, of course."

Larry Gopnik: "The Boss isn't always right, but he's always the boss."

Rabbi Scott: [LAUGHING] "That's right! Things aren't so bad. Look at the parking lot, Larry. [TRUNS TO ONCE AGAIN LOOK OUT THE WINDOW] Just look at that parking lot."


  1. Classic, man. Classic. The way Helberg says that line "Look at the parking lot, Larry" has stayed with me since the day I first saw it. In fact, I'm smiling and laughing about it right now.

  2. That's a great scene. My favorite scene for me is where Larry's son is about to meet the old priest who recites the words to the Jefferson Airplane song Somebody to Love and then the members of the band. Paul Kanter... Marty Balin... Jorma Kaukonen... Jack Casady...

    I was saying those names as well when I went to see the film. What a trip that was. Expect some Coen Bros. reviews to arrive probably next week.

  3. I was never able to find express love for this one, although i do think Stuhlbarg does a fine job (I think so even more retrospectively when I see how different and excellent he is on Boardwalk Empire). For me, though, the film's standout is Sari Lennick who burned the phrase whoopsie-doopsie into my head, so hilarious.

    Also, a far off aside - whenever I heard this film's title when Carey Mulligan is talking to her school-aged suitor telling him that he has to wear a suit-and-tie to her house so her father thinks that he's "un jean homme serieux".... as I said, far off and random, but I had to share.

  4. This is hands down my favorite Coen Brothers film and one of the finest films of the past 20 years. My brother and I have been trying to convert people over the past few years, but no takers. The real tragedy is that this film is somehow completely overlooked as the classic that it is. Glad someone else felt the genius as well. Love the scene when Mr. Park stops by to see if Larry is going to change Clive's grade. "Accept the mystery."

  5. @ Nick - Yeah, I laugh every time I think about it too. I have seen the film four times now - and there are a handful of scenes I look forward to, but this one is my favourite.

    @ Steven - Yeah that's a great scene too, and I love the way that song is used throughout the film. Looking forward to the Coens' reviews.

    @ Andrew - It took me a second (and even a third viewing) to appreciate A Serious Man, and I still don't understand everything that happens. It is such an odd film - but I am really glad it got nominated for Best Pic back in 2009 - because it really isn't a film the Academy would normally go for. You're so right about Sari Lennick's pronunciation of 'Whoopsie-Doopsie'. So funny. I don't think people are thought of being 'serious' first and foremost. Rarely is someone described as ' A Serious Man' - and I think one of the film's mysteries is deciphering what that means. Interesting aside, Andrew. Thanks for reading and sharing.

    @ OMFBC - This is probably in my five fav. Coen Bros' films. Fargo is my favourite, and I love No Country for Old Men. Took me a couple of viewings to appreciate, but now I regularly have urges to give it a go. Glad you dig the film - and if I were to choose another scene to highlight, it would have been the 'Accept the Mystery' one. Classic.

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