Roger Ebert, the Coen brothers and the Book of Job

If you’re a fan of the Coen brothers (the filmakers behind No Country For Old Men, Fargo and the Big Lebowski) you might have caught A Serious Man when it was released in 2009. If you didn’t, the film is worth viewing especially because of its sting in the tail which functions as an interesting interpretation of the Old Testament Book of Job.

The central character in A Serious Man, Larry Gopnik, is a modern day Job whose life falls to pieces around him. When Larry tries to confront God about the tragedies that are assailing him, he finds God to be inscrutable, silent and maddeningly withdrawn from the trials and sufferings of our central character.

The film tends to leave one with a bit of a “huh?” impression. What were the Coen brothers trying to say here? Was the joke on the viewer? I have consistently found Roger Ebert to be one of the most thought provoking film reviewers and he didn’t let me down with his review of A Serious Man, which contained this hint at the film’s meaning:

Why, why, why? I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke where Job asks the Lord why everything in his life is going wrong. Remember what the Lord replies? If you don’t remember the joke, ask anyone. I can’t prove it but I’m absolutely certain more than half of everyone on Earth has heard some version of that joke.

As it it turns out, almost no one has heard the joke about Job. Ebert might be pulling a bit of a Coen brothers style prank on his readers by witholding the punchline in his review. Finding the most likely candidate for the joke was itself a bit of a work of exegesis. It seems to me that best candidate for the joke that Ebert was referring to is one where after Job’s pleading with God to answer as to why things have gone so wrong for Job, there is a deep rumbling in the sky, the clouds part and a voice which booms from the heavens:

F*ck if I know.

I suspect that that joke about Job is about the best interpretation one could give of A Serious Man - and it might just fit for the Old Testament Book of Job too.

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2 Comments

  1. As I heard it, the punchline was: “Whine, whine, whine; keep complaining and I’ll kill your dog too.”

  2. In the comments below the review, there is an answer supplied by ‘chiefkurtz':
    With his life was ruined, his family killed, and his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, “Why God? Why me?”
    The thundering voice of God answered, “There’s just something about you that pisses me off.”

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