A SERIOUS MAN AND AN EVEN MORE SERIOUS MAN: Reviews of A Serious Man and Collapse

In the Old Testament he was called Job. In Joel and Ethan Coen’s new movie, he’s called Larry Gopnik (played with an expertly sad hilarity by Michael Stuhlbarg). Gopnik’s travails are not quite as travailic as Job’s (Job’s kids die, as do his servants; he loses his land; he loses his wife; he ends up covered in boils; and his friends torment him when they try to help him). Gopnik’s problems are more common to the common Joe (or common Job): his wife wants a divorce; his kids pay more attention to the TV than to him (except when they want the TV antenna fiddled with); his brother won’t move out; he might not get tenure. And if not a righteous man like Job, Gopnik is a good enough one, a serious one. So when these bad things pile up, it doesn’t seem any more right on God’s part than what happened to Job. The screenplay is funny and biting with a wonderful prologue about a possible dybbuk visiting a Russian shtetl in the old country. It’s the sort of existential scream type of screenplay that I love: what is the meaning to life if God acts in a meaningless way? And in the same way that Job is visited by three friends, Gopnik seeks out the help of three rabbis, none of whom can give him the answer he needs (keep a look out for Simon Helbert who plays Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory). The main issue I have is the ending, which I found a bit puzzling. In the Bible, God visits Job in a whirlwind and reads him the riot act, telling him that since God created the heavens, earth and even Job himself, Job has no right to challenge God about anything. Job accepts this and afterwards is rewarded with health; his wife back; twice as many kids; twice as many servants; and twice as much wealth. But the Coen brothers end their film just as the whirlwind approaches and just as Gopnik gets his boils (here, it’s lung cancer). Because of this, the Coen brother’s film has an even darker message than Job. In the Bible life is sort of a meaningless back and forth between good and bad fortune; for the Coen brothers, it’s just one plain sick joke with a punchline that’s suppose to be funny because it isn’t. For the Coen brothers, unlike the writer of Job, when life gets bad, it just gets worse.

The movie Collapse is one long interview with Michael Ruppert, who is described as a conspiracy nut, though in this film he talks about very few conspiracies. That’s actually what makes Ruppert so scary; he doesn’t blame the state of the world on a secret cabal of people who are driving our world into the ground—that would be too easy. He blames it on a whole host of issues that have gotten away from mankind as a whole. It’s one thing to solve our problems by getting rid of a group of people; it’s another thing to change the whole paradigm of mankind. Ruppert is more a doomsday prophet than a conspiracy theorist and it’s hard to argue with any of his theories; one can certainly disagree with bits of them here and there, but all in all, the future doesn’t bode well for mankind. His main theory revolves around the idea of peek oil—that we’ve reached the most oil possible and that now it’s only a matter of less and less until we run out of it, and since everything (plastics, agriculture, energy) depends on it, what is going to happen when we have no more? It’s a fascinating movie. One can’t look away, sort of like watching a slow train wreck, which is a somewhat apt metaphor here. It’s by Chris Smith, the same person who did American Movie, about another obsessed person, though that someone was intent on finishing a B horror movie. Perhaps Roland Emmerich should take note; no matter how scary 2012 is with all its special effects; it’s hard to believe it could possibly be any scarier than this one person.

So tell me what you think.

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