AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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A Serious Man
Director: Joel Coen (Dir)
Release Date:   2 Oct 2009
Premiere Information:   Toronto International Film Festival screening: 12 Sep 2009; Friars Club Comedy Film Festival screening (New York): 24 Sep 2009
Production Date:   8 Sep--5 Nov 2008
Duration (in mins):   104-105
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Cast:   Michael Stuhlbarg (Larry Gopnik)  
    Richard Kind (Uncle Arthur)  
    Fred Melamed (Sy Ableman)  
    Sari Lennick (Judith Gopnik)  
    Aaron Wolff (Danny Gopnik)  
    Jessica McManus (Sarah Gopnik)  
    Peter Breitmayer (Mr. Brandt)  
    Brent Braunschweig (Mitch Brandt)  
    David Kang (Clive Park)  
    Benjamin Portnoe (Danny's reefer buddy)  
    Jack Swiler (Boy on bus)  
    Andrew S. Lentz (Cursing boy on bus)  
    Jon Kaminski Jr. (Mike Fagle)  
    Ari Hoptman (Arlen Finkle)  
    Alan Mandell (Rabbi Marshak)  
    Amy Landecker (Mrs. Samsky)  
    George Wyner (Rabbi Nachtner)  
    Michael Tezla (Dr. Sussman)  
    Katherine Borowitz (Friend at the picnic)  
    Stephen Park (Clive's father [Mr. Park])  
    Allen Lewis Rickman (Shtetl husband [Velvel])  
    Yelena Shmulenson (Shtetl wife [Dora])  
    Fyvush Finkel (Dybbuk? [Reb Traitle Groshkover])  
    Ronald Schultz (Hebrew school teacher)  
    Raye Birk (Dr. Shapiro)  
    Jane Hammill (Larry's secretary)  
    Claudia Wilkens (Marshak's secretary)  
    Simon Helberg (Rabbi Scott)  
    Adam Arkin (Divorce lawyer)  
    James Cada (Cop #1)  
    Michael Lerner (Solomon Schlutz)  
    Charles Brin (Hebrew school principal)  
    Michael Engel (Torah blesser)  
    Tyson Bidner (Magbiah)  
    Phyllis Harris (Hebrew school tea lady)  
    Piper Sigel Bruse (D'vorah)  
    Hannah Nemer (Sarah's friend)  
    Rita Vassallo (Law firm secretary)  
    Warren David Keith (Dick Dutton)  
    Neil Newman (Cantor)  
    Tim Russell (Detective #1)  
    Jim Lichtscheidl (Detective #2)  
    Wayne Evenson (Russell Krauss)  
    Scott Baker (Sci-fi movie hero)  

Summary: In bygone times, on a snowy night in Eastern Europe, the Jew Velvel returns to his village after selling geese at the market. Cheerfully, Velvel tells his wife Dora that he encountered Traitle Groshkover and invited him to visit. Aghast, Dora claims that they are cursed, then explains that Reb Groshkover died three years ago from typhus. What Velvel really saw, she says, is a dybbuk , or a dead soul looking to inhabit a live person. When the old man arrives, he explains that he recovered from his illness and denies Dora’s accusation that he died. Velvel assures Groshkover that he is a “rational man” and does not believe in superstition, but, to prove her point, Dora stabs Groshkover in the chest with an ice pick. After Groshkover walks out into the night with blood on his shirt front, Velvel exclaims that they will be ruined when his body is found. Dora, however, praises the Lord and says, “good riddance to evil.”
       In 1967, at a Hebrew school in a Midwestern suburb, thirteen-year-old student Danny Gopnik listens surreptitiously through an earpiece to music of the rock group, Jefferson Airplane, playing on his miniature transistor radio. When the teacher discovers his inattentiveness, the radio is confiscated, along with a twenty dollar bill tucked inside the radio’s cover. On the bus after school, Danny tells his friends that the money was intended for Mike Fagle, a fellow student and bully from whom he bought marijuana. Meanwhile, Danny’s father Larry, a college physics professor applying for tenure, undergoes a thorough medical examination. The physician, Dr. Shapiro, asks about the family and Danny’s upcoming bar mitzvah, then states that Larry is in good health. Later in his classroom, Larry enthusiastically writes formulas on the board as he lectures to his bored class about Schrödinger’s Paradox, an illustration of an esoteric quantum physics principle featuring a cat in a box. Afterward in Larry’s office, Clive Park, a South Korean student who failed his examination, insists that Larry pass him, so that he can keep his scholarship. Clive explains that he understands about the cat, and only has trouble with the mathematics, but Larry argues that it is the math that is important. When Larry refuses to raise his grade, Clive departs, but leaves behind an envelope containing several hundred dollars. That evening, Larry discovers that Brandt, his gruff, “goy” neighbor, has been mowing part of the Gopniks’ lawn. Larry’s unemployed brother Arthur, who has been sleeping on the Gopniks’ sofa, is in the bathroom draining a sebaceous cyst on his neck. This annoys Larry’s daughter Sarah, who complains that she needs the room to get ready to go out for the night. After dinner, Larry is grading papers, when his wife Judith stuns him by saying that she wants a get , a ritual Jewish divorce that would allow her to marry their older, widowed and well-to-do friend, Sy Ableman. At the office the next day, Larry delays answering several phone messages from a stranger, Dick Dutton, and from Sy, in order to confront Clive about his bribery attempt, but Clive feigns ignorance about the money. At home, as Danny is practicing for his bar mitzvah, Sarah, who has been thinking about getting a "nose job," bursts into the room to accuse him of taking the money she stole from Larry’s wallet. When Larry arrives at home, Judith nags him about seeing a lawyer, Sarah whines that Arthur is in the bathroom and Danny complains that their television set is not picking up the program, F Troop . Later, Larry tries to relax, while Arthur works obsessively on what he calls “The Mentaculus,” a probability map of the universe that he has notated as intricate diagrams in a composition book. However, Sy, a paunchy middle-aged man with a smooth voice, arrives bearing Bordeaux and insists on hugging Larry. He murmurs, “Such a time, such a time,” and assures Larry that they will be “fine.” After school the next day, Danny and a friend break into the principal’s office to get his money, but discover that the radio is missing from the drawer where confiscated items are kept. Unable to pay and afraid that Fagle will beat him up, Danny runs home, with the bully in pursuit. That evening, Larry climbs to his roof to adjust the television antenna. From this vantage point, he spots another neighbor, Mrs. Samsky, sunbathing in the nude. During the night, Larry, who now sleeps on a cot in the living room, awakens to see the gun-toting Brandt leave for a hunting trip with his son. Later in the day, he sees that Brandt is preparing to build a shed partly on Gopnik property. At work, Arlen Finkle, the head of the tenure committee, drops by to inform Larry that they have been receiving anonymous letters accusing Larry of moral turpitude, but assures him that it will have no bearing on their decision. After Judith and Sy convince Larry that he should move into a motel for the good of the family, he reluctantly packs. Clive’s father arrives at his house and, threatening a lawsuit, accuses Larry of “defamation.” Illogically, Park denies any wrongdoing, but simultaneously claims that Larry’s failing of Clive prompted his son to bribery. Although Larry tries to point out the flaws in his reasoning, Park tells him to pass Clive and “accept the mystery,” then leaves. During the weekend, Larry discusses his marital problems with a friend, who suggests that he talk to a rabbi. Although Larry makes an appointment with Rabbi Nachtner, he is instead greeted by Scott, an inexperienced, but earnest young junior rabbi, when he arrives. After hearing Larry’s troubles, Scott suggests that Larry look at the world with a fresh perspective and urges him to admire the parking lot. When Larry meets with his divorce lawyer, besides discussing his marital problem, he mentions Brandt and is referred to Solomon Schlutz, a lawyer with expertise in property issues. The appointment is interrupted by Danny, who calls to complain that F Troop is “fuzzy.” On his way to work the next day, Larry is involved in a three-car accident, and arrives at work, unnerved and shaken. Dutton calls and explains that he works for the Columbia Record Club, to which Larry is four months late on paying a first installment. In vain, Larry argues that he never ordered records, but his conversation is interrupted by another call from Danny, who admits to placing the order. As Judith wails in the background, Danny tells Larry to come home, because Sy was killed in a car accident and because he needs to fix the television antenna. A few days later, when Larry meets with Nachtner, he says he feels it is not right that he should pay for Sy’s funeral, as Judith demands. Finding it strange that he and Sy were in accidents at approximately the same time, Larry asks what Hashem, or God, is saying to him. Nachtner tells him a long-winded tale about a dentist who discovered Hebrew letters spelling “help me” inscribed on the back of a “goy” patient’s teeth. When the story ends without a conclusion, Larry demands to know what it means. Eventually Nachtner suggests that helping others would not hurt him. After Sy’s funeral, the Gopnik’s are sitting shiva , when police arrive to issue Arthur a warning for illegal activity. Larry then learns that Arthur has been using his Mentaculus to win at the gambling table. After Larry learns that Judith has cleaned out his bank account, Larry’s attorney tells him that she has hired an aggressive law firm that may make the divorce difficult. When Larry begins to cry, his lawyer suggests that he meet with the highly esteemed, elderly rabbi, Marshak. However, the elusive spiritual leader now only congratulates the bar mitzvah boys each week and Larry is refused an appointment with him. In the classroom, Larry explains that the Uncertainty Principle is proof that one cannot really ever know what is going on. He adds that, despite not knowing, the students are still responsible for it on the midterm examination. After the class ends, Sy appears and says that mathematics might be subtle and clever but not convincing. He bangs Larry’s head against the wall and tells him to see Marshak, awakening Larry abruptly from his nightmare. Larry visits Mrs. Samsky, whose husband is always out of town, and offers his services, explaining that he has been advised to help others. She invites him in and introduces him to marijuana. As they talk, they hear a siren. Outside, Arthur is arrested on charges of solicitation and sodomy at a sleazy bar. When Larry later tells his attorney that Arthur claims he went to the bar only for a drink, he is given the name of a criminal law attorney. Schlutz, who has determined a way to get around Larry’s property line problem, arrives to discuss it, but abruptly suffers a heart attack and dies. In his office, the stress-filled Larry evades calls from Dutton. When Finkle drops by, Larry exclaims, “I am not an evil man!” Finkle agrees and tells him not to worry. Later, immediately after having sex with Mrs. Samsky, Larry is in a coffin with Sy looking down at him. When Sy tells him that “nailing it down” is important, Larry awakens in the motel from another nightmare. That day, Larry tries again to get an appointment with Marshak by going to his office in person. As he begs the secretary to let him in, he rambles about how he has tried to be “a serious man” and do right, but that he has lots of problems and is desperate for help. Although the secretary tells him Marshak is busy, Larry can see through the doorway that he is idle. During the night, Larry awakens to Arthur’s cries. When Arthur runs out of the motel room to the swimming pool, Larry follows and tries to comfort him. Arthur claims that it is not fair that Hashem has given Larry a family and a job, and nothing to him. They drive together to the Canadian border, where Larry gives Arthur the envelope of money from Clive. After promising to contact him when he is settled, Arthur rows away in a canoe, but is abruptly shot by Brandt, who is on a hunting trip. Brandt then points his rifle at Larry and tells his son, “There’s another Jew.” Before being shot, Larry awakens in the hotel room with Arthur, having only ventured as far as the pool the night before. On the night of his bar mitzvah, Danny smokes marijuana with a friend and feels unsteady when he begins his part of the ceremony. However, after a shaky start, he performs the ritual well, making his parents proud. Judith whispers an apology to Larry for the trouble they have had and tells him that Sy respected him so much that he wrote letters to the tenure committee. Afterward, Danny meets with Marshak to receive his congratulations and words of wisdom. After a silence, the elderly rabbi, who is quoting lyrics of a song by the Jefferson Airplane that are familiar to Danny, asks, “When the truth is found to be lies and all hope within you dies…then what?” After naming several of the musicians in “The Airplane,” the rabbi returns Danny’s radio and tells him to be a good boy. The following week, Finkle drops by Larry’s office to hint that his tenure application will be accepted. Despite the rain outside, Larry’s luck seems to be improving. Danny is again listening to his radio during class, when a tornado warning prompts the principal to order the students to proceed to the synagogue’s cellar. Meanwhile, after receiving a bill from his attorneys for $3,000, Larry changes Clive’s grade to a C minus. Just then, Dr. Shapiro calls, asking Larry to come immediately to his office to discuss the results of an X-ray. On the school parking lot, as the principal fumbles with the cellar keys, Danny notices that a funnel cloud is heading directly toward them. 

Production Company: Working Title Films (NBC Universal)
  Mike Zoss Productions  
Distribution Company: Focus Features (NBC Universal)
  StudioCanal (Canal+ Group)
  Relativity Media  
Director: Joel Coen (Dir)
  Ethan Coen (Dir)
  Betsy Magruder (1st asst dir)
  Bac DeLorme (2d asst dir)
  Terrence B. Zinn (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Joel Coen (Prod)
  Ethan Coen (Prod)
  Tim Bevan (Exec prod)
  Eric Fellner (Exec prod)
  Robert Graf (Exec prod)
Writer: Joel Coen (Wrt)
  Ethan Coen (Wrt)
Photography: Roger Deakins (Dir of photog)
  Roger Deakins (Cam op)
  Andy Harris (1st asst cam)
  Michael Lindquist (2d asst cam)
  Cole Koehler (Cam loader)
  Maria Juranic (Cam PA)
  Matt Olson (Cam PA)
  Bill O'Leary (Chief lighting tech)
  Joseph L. Grimaldi (Best boy elec)
  Tom Franchett (Rigging gaffer)
  Joseph Slagerman (Best boy rigging gaffer)
  Edward Cohen (Elec)
  Craig Hanson (Elec)
  Travis Hottinger (Elec)
  Kevin Karpinski (Elec)
  Jeff Villars (Elec)
  Steven Jacobson (Rigging elec)
  Chris Malone (Rigging elec)
  Gerhard Riautschnig (Rigging elec)
  Mitch Lillian (Key grip)
  Paul Candrilli (Best boy grip)
  Bruce Hamme (Dolly grip)
  Peter Clemence (Key rigging grip)
  Michael Winn (Best boy rigging grip)
  Joe Gallup (Grip)
  Scott Jolstad (Grip)
  David Pope (Grip)
  Darin Spring (Grip)
  Tristan Allen (Rigging grip)
  James E. Farrell (Rigging grip)
  Peter Von Grossmann (Rigging grip)
  Tim O'Toole (Video assist op)
  Otto Nemenz (Cameras by)
  Wilson Webb (Still photog)
Art Direction: Jess Gonchor (Prod des)
  Deborah Jensen (Art dir)
  Jeff Schoen (Asst art dir)
  J. Todd Anderson (Pen grappler)
  Jarrette Moats (Art dept coord)
  Gregory Hill (Graphic des)
  Cate Hahneman (Art dept PA)
  Sahm McGlynn (Asset PA)
  Eric Helmin (Art dept intern)
Film Editor: Roderick Jaynes (Ed)
  Katharine McQuerrey (Assoc ed)
  Emma Gaffney (1st asst ed)
  Zana Bochar (Apprentice ed)
  Buster Coen (Ed intern)
  Post Factory (Post prod facility)
  Final Cut Pro (Ed on)
Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh (Set dec)
  Maria Baker (Set des)
  Scott Troha (Lead dresser)
  Scott Nordhausen (On set dresser)
  Jill Broadfoot (Buyer)
  Matt Joyer (Swing gang)
  Sarah Kruchowski (Swing gang)
  Quentin Matthys (Swing gang)
  Brian Simpson (Swing gang)
  Ryan Tallant (Swing gang)
  Chris Thickins (Swing gang)
  Rob Walstead (Swing gang)
  Keith Walters (Prop master)
  John Cameron (Asst prop master)
  Bryan Shelley (Props asst)
  John A. Champion (Prop maker)
  David Franicola (Prop maker)
  Steve Hintz (Prop maker)
  Mark Edmo (Prop maker)
  Bradley "Wiszard" Grasser (Prop maker)
  Dennis J. Perry (Prop maker)
  Matt Erkel (Prop maker)
  Brian Koehn (Prop maker)
  Keith Reitmeier (Prop maker)
  Garrett Fulton (Prop maker)
  David K. Hartman (Prop maker)
  Brian Rhea (Prop maker)
  Steve Anderson (Const coord)
  Mike Wallien (Const foreman)
  Donavan M. Hake (Const gang boss)
  Kelly Rae Hemenway (Const gang boss)
  Pat Owen (Const gang boss)
  Gary C. Surber (Const gang boss)
  Dwight C. Swanson (Const gang boss)
  Pat Wilson (Const utility)
  Anne Hyvarinen (Lead scenic artist)
  Benjamin Bayne (Scenic gang boss)
  Phil Vandervaart (Sign writer)
  Faith Farrell (Scenic artist)
  Windy Fleischaker (Scenic artist)
  Wayne Grimsrud (Scenic artist)
  Renee T. Schendel (Scenic artist)
  Liz Schreiber (Scenic artist)
  Shannon M. Schumacher (Scenic artist)
  Hans Schumacher (Scenic artist)
  Andrew Gustafson (Painter)
  Luther Hill (Painter)
  Sarah Regan (Stand-by painter)
  Mark Wojahn (Head greensman)
  Janet Lobberecht (Greens gang boss)
  Kemper Harris (On set greens)
  James Kindt (Greens)
  Stephen Clarke (Set prod asst )
  Carrie Bush (Set prod asst)
  Jeremy Pierce-Sunia (Set prod asst)
  Ben "The Kroog" Krueger (Set prod asst)
Costumes: Mary Zophres (Cost des)
  Jenny Eagan (Asst cost des)
  Virginia Burton (Cost supv--MN)
  Lori DeLapp (Cost supv--LA)
  Corrine Larson (Key cost)
  Jane Williams (Key set cost)
  Nikki Fallenstein (Set cost)
  Melissa Seitzer (Set cost)
  Cynthia Kurkowski (Stitcher)
  Jan E. Adams (Stitcher)
  Cerah M. Tymoshuk (Cost asst)
  Joan Lee (Cost asst)
Music: Carter Burwell (Mus)
  Todd Kasow (Mus ed)
  Carter Burwell (Orch comp and cond)
  Sandra Park (Orch contractor)
  Chris Robertson (Mus clearances by)
  Diamond Time, Ltd. (Mus clearances by)
  Tony Finno (Copyist)
  Dean Parker (Comp's asst)
  Clinton Recording Studio (Score rec at)
  The Body (Mixed at)
  Michael Farrow (Mus scoring mixer)
Sound: Skip Lievsay (Supv sd ed)
  Peter F. Kurland (Prod sd mixer)
  Randy Johnson (Boom op)
  Chris Benson (Utility sd)
  Peter Zimbicki (Addl utility sd)
  Craig Berkey (Sd des)
  Byron Wilson (Dial ed)
  James Morioka (Dial ed)
  Kenton Jakub (ADR ed)
  Joel Dougherty (Foley ed)
  Phil Barrie (1st asst sd ed)
  Johnna Chism (Asst sd ed)
  George A. Lara (Foley mixer)
  Marko A. Costanzo (Foley artist)
  Skip Lievsay (Re-rec mixer)
  Craig Berkey (Re-rec mixer)
  Greg Orloff (Re-rec mixer)
  Sony Pictures Studios (Re-rec at )
Special Effects: Larz Anderson (Spec eff coord)
  Paul Deely (Spec eff foreman)
  Luma Pictures (Visual eff by)
  Payam Shohadai (Exec visual eff supv, Luma Pictures)
  Vincent Cirelli (Visual eff supv, Luma Pictures)
  Steven Swanson (VFX supervising prod, Luma Pictures)
  Steve Griffith (VFX prod, Luma Pictures)
  Justin Johnson (Digital eff supv, Luma Pictures)
  Oliver Arnold (CG supv, Luma Pictures)
  Katie Godwin (VFX coord, Luma Pictures)
  Marla Neto (Digital coord, Luma Pictures)
  Justin Porter (Tech coord, Luma Pictures)
  Alexandre Cancado (Lead compositor, Luma Pictures)
  Jared Simeth (Compositor, Luma Pictures)
  Joey Sila (Compositor, Luma Pictures)
  James Waterson (Compositor, Luma Pictures)
  Michael Cashore (Compositor, Luma Pictures)
  Andy Burmeister (Jr compositor, Luma Pictures)
  Jennifer Gutierrez (Jr compositor, Luma Pictures)
  Anthony Grant (Matte painter, Luma Pictures)
  Safari Sosebee (Matte painter, Luma Pictures)
  John Cassella (Sr FX artist, Luma Pictures)
  Jason Locke (Matchmove TD, Luma Pictures)
  Glenn Morris (Roto/Paint supv, Luma Pictures)
  Jessica Bakke (Roto/Paint artist, Luma Pictures)
  Jacob Harris (Roto/Paint artist, Luma Pictures)
  Big Film Design (Titles seq and subtitles)
  Randy Balsmeyer (Titles des, Big Film Design)
  J. John Corbett (Lead digital artist, Big Film Design)
  Plethorafx (Opticals)
Make Up: Jean A. Black (Makeup des/Dept head)
  Mary K. Flaa (Makeup co-dept head)
  Carrie Messina (Asst makeup artist)
  Christien Tinsley (Age/Eff makeup)
  Frída S. Aradóttir (Hair dept head)
  Deanna L. Johnson (Asst hairsylist)
Production Misc: Ellen Chenoweth (Casting)
  Rachel Tenner (Casting)
  Amelia Rasche (Casting assoc)
  Debbie DeLisi (Extras casting)
  Kati Batchelder (Extras casting asst)
  Aaron Greenwood (Extras casting asst)
  Sonja Thorson (Extras casting intern)
  Kelly McMahon (Extras casting intern)
  Sondra James (Voice casting)
  Robert Graf (Unit prod mgr)
  Thomas Johnston (Scr supv)
  Karen Ruth Getchell (Prod supv)
  Catherine Farrell (Post-prod supv)
  Cheryl Kurk (Prod accountant)
  Jennifer Luther (1st asst accountant)
  Rachel Richardson (2d asst accountant)
  Paul Kenney (2d asst accountant)
  David Hickey (Payroll accountant)
  Lisa M. Kurk (Const accountant)
  Megan Brown (Addl asst accountant)
  Trevanna Post, Inc. (Post prod accountant)
  Rachael Lin Gallaghan (Prod coord)
  Kris Barberg (Asst prod coord)
  Shannon E. Schaefer (Prod secy)
  Tyson Bidner (Loc mgr)
  Anne Healy Shapiro (Asst loc mgr)
  Kat Donahue (Asst loc mgr)
  Christopher Cloud (Loc asst)
  Kai Miller (Loc staff asst)
  Mark Har (Loc scout)
  Ben Wood (Loc intern)
  Claudia Gray (Unit pub)
  Drew Houpt (The last of the just)
  Amy Thompson (Office prod asst)
  Troy Lochner (Office prod asst)
  Colleen Beach (Office prod intern)
  Andrea Bias (Office prod intern)
  Kurt W. Gensmer (Medic)
  Kristopher W. Gensmer (Medic)
  David Dustin (Medic)
  Tony's Food Service (Catering)
  Ivan Kerum (Chef)
  Mara Kerum (Chef)
  Nikki Martin (Craft service)
  David Mathiason (Craft service asst)
  Marc Scott (Transportation coord)
  Byron Roland (Transportation capt)
  Richard "Itchy" Anderson (Transportation co-capt)
  Mike Arnold (Picture car coord)
  James Mahathey (Dispatcher)
  Carolyn J. Anderson (Driver)
  Curtis W. Anderson (Driver)
  Michael Bakri (Driver)
  Jon Bjornson (Driver)
  Denny Braun (Driver)
  Guy Eckert (Driver)
  Andrew Garski (Driver)
  William L. Gillespie (Driver)
  Timothy S. Kennedy (Driver)
  Steve Kenney (Driver)
  Frank L. Ketchum (Driver)
  Anthony P. Kettner (Driver)
  Eugene Kisch (Driver)
  Scott Lecy (Driver)
  George Lundquist (Driver)
  Jean-Pierre Molina (Driver)
  Gary Olander (Driver)
  Rajiv Sarin (Driver)
  Leonard Schneider (Driver)
  Ernest Simon (Driver)
  Leo Matthew Skudlarek (Driver)
  Greg Viglione (Driver)
  Jon Westerlund (Driver)
  Fred Whipple (Driver)
  Patrick Hammer (Weather guru)
  Rabbi Cantor Dan Sklar (Language and liturgy)
  Cantor Neil Newman (Language and liturgy)
  Cantor Shirah Sklar (Language and liturgy)
  Sean M. Murphy (Language and liturgy)
  Wendy Zierler (Yiddish translation)
  Allen Rickman (Yiddish translation)
  Angela Morrison (Chief operating officer, Working Title)
  Michelle Wright (Exec in charge of prod, Working Title)
  Sheeraz Shah (Head of legal & bus affairs, Working Title)
  Christina Angeloudes (Legal & bus affairs mgr, Working Title)
  Chloé Dorigan (Asst to Tim Bevan, Working Title)
  Cara Shine (Asst to Eric Fellner, Working Title)
  AON/Albert G. Ruben Insurance Services, Inc. (Insurance provided by)
  Entertainment Clearances, Inc. (Clearance services provided by)
  Laura Sevier (Clearance services provided by)
  Cassandra Barbour (Clearance services provided by)
  Patricia Mary Murphy Esq. (Serious matters)
  Eureka Recycling (Composting services)
  Boone Trucking (Composting services)
Stand In: Jery Hewitt (Stunt coord)
  Danny Downey (Stunts)
  Eric Howell (Stunts)
  Adam DeLisi ("Larry" stand in)
  Jonathan Pruett ("Sy"/"Uncle Arthur" stand in)
  Leigh Rydberg ("Danny" stand in)
Color Personnel: EFILM (Digital intermediate and dailies by)
  Michael Hatzer (Supv digital colorist, EFILM)
  Loan Phan (Digital intermediate prod, EFILM)
  Lisa Tutunjian (Ditial intermediate ed, EFILM)
  Ken Lebre (Dailies prod, EFILM)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "F-Troop Theme," written by William Lava & Irving Taylor, courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Songs: "Somebody to Love," written by Darby Slick, performed by Jefferson Airplane, courtesy of RCA Records Label by arrangement with Sony BMG Music Entertainment; "Comin' Back to Me," written by Marty Balin, performed by Jefferson Airplane, courtesy of the RCA Records Label by arrangement with Sony BMG Music Entertainment; "Dem Milners Trern (The Miller's Tears)," written by Mark Warshavsky, performed by Sidor Belarsky, courtesy of Isabel Belarsky; "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds," written by Marty Balin, performed by Jefferson Airplane, courtesy of the RCA Records Label by arrangement with Sony BMG Music Entertainment; "Today," written by Marty Balin & Paul Kantner, performed by Jefferson Airplane, courtesy of RCA Records Label by arrangement with Sony BMG Entertainment; "Machine Gun," written and performed by Jimi Hendrix, courtesy of Experience Hendrix LLC/Geffen Records under license from Universal Music Enterprises; "Good Times," written by P. Applebaum, performed by Art of Lovin', courtesy of Mainstream/Hunnypot Unlimited by arrangement with Evergreen/ICG.
Composer: P. Applebaum
  Marty Balin
  Jimi Hendrix
  Paul Kantner
  William Lava
  Darby Slick
  Irving Taylor
  Mark Warshavsky
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Focus Features LLC 0/0/2009 dd/mm/yyyy  

PCA NO: 45447
Physical Properties: Sd: dts; Dolby Digital; SDDS Sony Dynamic Digital Sound in selected theatres
  col: deluxe
  Widescreen/ratio:
  Lenses/Prints: Kodak Motion Picture Film

 
Genre: Black comedy
 
Subjects (Major): Family relationships
  Jews
  Professors
  Rabbis
  United States--History--1961-1970
 
Subjects (Minor): Aged men
  Arrests
  Automobile accidents
  Bar mitzvah
  Bill collectors
  Blackmail
  Bribery
  Bullies
  College students
  Curses
  Cysts
  Death and dying
  Debt
  Dentists
  F Troop (Television program)
  Jefferson Airplane (Musical group)
  Koreans
  Land rights
  Lawyers
  Letters
  Luck
  Marijuana
  Medicine--Examinations
  Motels
  Neighbors
  Nightmares
  Nudity
  Physicians
  Physics
  Recordings
  Religious schools
  Romantic rivalry
  Separation (Marital)
  Suburban life
  Temptresses
  Widowers

Note: After Working Title's company logo, the film opens with the following written statement: "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you. -Rashi." The statement is followed by an eight-minute prologue set in a Jewish village, or shtetl , in an indefinite past time. Although the prologue appears to be a dramatization of an old folk tale, and the dialogue is in Yiddish, with English subtitles, it was written for the film. The sequence was edited to simulate an aspect ratio of 1.37.1, which was the standard for theatrical motion pictures until the early 1950s. Following the prologue, the screen opens up to a 1.85.1 aspect ratio, the standard for current releases, when the opening credits are presented. The remainder of the film's dialogue is in English, with occasional phrases in Yiddish and Hebrew.
       Several of the cast members received above title billing in the opening credits. The character name of the mysterious "Reb Traitle Groshkover" (Fyvush Finkel) is listed in the end credits with a question mark as "Dybbuk?" The onscreen credits for the Coen brothers reads: “Written, produced and directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.” The name Roderick Jaynes, who is listed as editor in the onscreen credits, is the joint pseudonym the Coen brothers have used in many of their films. The Coens’ frequent collaborator, Roger Deakins, is listed twice in the end credits, for director of photography and camera operator.
       The 1967 song, “Somebody to Love,” by the rock group, Jefferson Airplane, is heard during the opening credits. After the credits, the song continues, as the camera pulls back from an extreme close-up to reveal the earpiece of a miniature transistor radio in the ear of the character, “Danny Gopnik” (Aaron Wolff), who is listening to the song. Intermittently throughout the rest of the film, the song is heard and occasionally becomes part of the action, when, for instance, it is played on a record during “Larry Gopnik’s” (Michael Stuhlbarg) dreamed sexual encounter with “Mrs. Samsky” (Amy Landecker). “Rabbi Marshak” (Alan Mandell) quotes portions of the lyrics, as well as the names of some of the band members in the group, when he meets with Danny near the end of the film. The song again plays over the end credits.
       Three intertitle cards preceding Larry’s meetings with the rabbis, read: “The First Rabbi,” “The Second Rabbi” and “Marshak,” respectively. A statement in the end credits reads: “No Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture.” A logo for the Coens’ production company, Mike Zoss Productions, appears after the end credits. Brief excerpts from the television series, F Troop , which aired on the ABC network between 1965 and 1967, appear in the film on a black-and-white television. According to the film’s production notes, the skewed and tilted effects in the sequences in which Larry visits Mrs. Samsky and when Danny attends his bar mitzvah under the influence of marijuana were created by Deakins using special lenses. The story of the dentist is told as a flashback, interspliced into the sequence of Danny’s meeting with “Rabbi Nachtner” (George Wyner). A record album Danny receives from the Columbia Record Club is Abraxas by Santana, which was actually released in 1970, three years after the time of the story. The end credits contained NBC Universal’s “Green Is Universal” brand. According to the production notes, the cast and crew were given metal water canteens and biodegradable utensils to use during shooting, and sets and food service items were recycled, for the betterment of the environment.
       According to the film’s production notes, the story is set in a community similar to the Saint Louis Park, MN neighborhood in which they were reared, and Larry Gopnik, like both of their parents, is a college professor. In 1967, the year the story is set, the Coen brothers were aged 13 and 10, similar in age to Danny. In the production notes, the Coens stated that an idea for a short movie about a bar mitzvah boy who visits an elderly rabbi, a character who was loosely based on someone they once knew, had been in their minds for many years. According to a 5 Oct 2009 New York review, when writing the film, the Coens considered having both the father and son as protagonists, but as the story developed, they began to emphasize the point of view of the father. However, elements of the dual protagonists remain in the final film in the school and bar mitzvah sequences that are shown from Danny’s perspective.
       According to 19 Jun 2008 NYT and 28 Sep 2007 Star Tribune (St. Paul, MN) news items, the Coens scouted Minnesota and Wisconsin for shooting locations, but chose Minnesota because of a 2006 state government incentive that returns to filmmakers fifteen percent of the money spent in that state. As reported in the production notes and 6 Sep and 6 Nov 2008 Star Tribune (St. Paul, MN) news items, the film was shot in and around the greater Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. According to the above sources, portions of the film were shot at B’nai Emet Synogogue in St. Louis Park, Normandale Community College in Bloomington, St. Olaf College in Northfield, a SuperValu Store in St. Paul (which was decorated with vintage Red Owl grocery store signs for the film), Interstate Park near St. Croix Falls on the St. Croix River, Lake Rebecca in Independence, as well as other locations in Minneapolis, Edina, Taylor Falls and Roseville, MN. According to the production notes, the filmmakers wanted to recreate a 1960s Midwestern suburban neighborhood for the Gopniks, but found that most of the areas that suited them architecturally also had big trees and mature growth. They began searching for areas damaged by storm or blight, and found a community in which several families living in a neighborhood of twelve adjacent houses allowed their homes to be used. The filmmakers reseeded lawns to look newer, and in some cases, narrowed two-car driveways to accommodate one car, in order to look more authentic to the era of the 1960s.
       Many vintage cars were used in the production, and in most cases, their owners appeared in the film as extras, according to the production notes. The production team decided that Larry should drive a Dodge Coronet, “Sy Ableman” (Fred Melamed) would drive a Coupe de Ville, and Mrs. Samsky, a Mustang. According to a 6 Sep 2008 Star Tribune (St. Paul, MN), two vintage school buses were shipped from Connecticut to the shooting site and repainted the yellow color used during the 1950s and 1960s era.
       Among the many other period objects featured in the film, record players are used prominently. Mrs. Samsky is playing a record when Larry visits her. Several times during the story, Larry attempts to relax at home by listening to a recording of a Yiddish song, “Dem Milners Trern (The Miller’s Tears).” Danny learns his part in the bar mitzvah ceremony by listening to a performance of the famous cantor, Yossele Rosenblatt (1882—1933), on a LP record album. According to an 11 Nov 2009 LAT interview, costume designer Mary Zophres performed extensive research of the photograph collection at the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest. She shopped at thrift stores for vintage clothes and costumed the women in undergarments authentic to the 1960s decade. In the production notes, Zophres states that the film is set in an era before contact lenses were prevalent, so that many of the characters wore glasses.
       As stated in the production notes and several news items, the Coens wanted to cast an actor unknown to film audiences as the lead. Stuhlbarg, a Tony Award-nominated stage actor who had made few films, auditioned for a character in the prologue, but, after several auditions, was eventually cast as Larry. The production notes also stated that Richard Kind, who is known to television, film and stage audiences, had auditioned for the Coens’ previous film, the 2008 Burn After Reading , and read for the role of one of the rabbis, but was later asked to audition for “Uncle Arthur,” the part in which he appears in the film. Melamed, who portrays “Sy Ableman,” a role Joel Coen humorously describes as “the sex guy in our movie,” had also auditioned for an earlier Coen movie, the 1991 Barton Fink . Although he was not cast in that film, he was remembered after almost two decades by the Coens, who asked him to audition for A Serious Man .
       Many actors were local to the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. According to the production notes, casting director Ellen Chenoweth advertised auditions in the local paper, Star Tribune (St. Paul, MN), and she scouted retirement communities, Jewish youth centers and synagogues for “real Jews” living on the plains, rather than the city dwelling, “Hollywood ethnic type.” Sari Lennick, Wolff and Jessica McManus, who portray Larry’s wife and children, were residents of the area. Tyson Bidner, the film’s location manager who lived in the area, appears in the bar mitzvah scene. According to the production notes, a local cantor, and synagogue and community officials also appeared in that sequence. In the production notes, Bidner states that the Jewish community in Minneapolis was supportive of the making of the film, although, as Ethan Coen noted, some people were concerned that the film might be unflattering to Jews. An article in the Sep 2009 issue of the The Jewish Journal reported that some Jewish viewers might be concerned about the depiction of, among other things, “inept rabbis, demanding wives [and] stoned bar mitzvah boys.” However, Joel Coen stated in the production notes his belief that their film is an affectionate look that “shows aspects of Judaism which are not usually seen.”
       LAT and NYT reviews noted that the troubles endured by Larry in A Serious Man are reminiscent of the challenges faced by the Biblical character, Job. The NYT review compared the Coen brothers’ perspective of a chaotic universe with the work of writer, director and comedian, Woody Allen. The 5 Oct 2009 New York review described A Serious Man ’s depiction of, among other things, “suburban alienation, philosophical inquiry, moral seriousness,” as “one of the most remarkable oeuvres in modern film.”
       A Serious Man was selected as one of AFI's Movies of the Year for 2009. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Writing (Original Screenplay). Michael Stuhlbarg was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture--Comedy or Musical. The film was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director, and won Best Cinematography, as well as that organization’s Robert Altman Award. Among other awards and nominations, the film was nominated for the WGA Award for Original Screenplay and was named Best Original Screenplay by the National Board of Review. Jess Goncher was nominated for an Excellence in Production Design Award in the period film category by the Art Directors Guild. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   2 Dec 2009.   
Hollywood Reporter   10 Sep 2009.   
Hollywood Reporter   14 Sep 2009   p. 9.
The Jewish Journal   Sep 2009   p. 12, 14.
Los Angeles Times   21 Nov 2007.   
Los Angeles Times   2 Oct 2009   Section D, p. 1, 9.
Los Angeles Times   9 Nov 2009.   
Los Angeles Times   2 Dec 2009.   
New York   5 Oct 2009   p. 80.
New York Times   19 Jun 2008.   
New York Times   2 Oct 2009   Section C, p. 1, 13.
New Yorker   5 Oct 2009   p. 88.
Screen International   27 Apr 2007.   
Star Tribune (St. Paul, MN)   28 Sep 2007.   
Star Tribune (St. Paul, MN)   6 Nov 2008.   
Time   12 Oct 2009.   
Variety   21 Sep 2009   p. 44, 52.

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