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Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Serious Man

This isn't going to resonate with everyone, but this is classic Coen Bros. I've heard some people say the Jewish humor in this film made them squeamish, but allow me to share part of why I think it's spot on.

I remember talking to a Jewish customer in a former job, a customer who was in the part of New York City that's technically in New Jersey. He was telling me about how a kosher butcher in his area had been playing fast and loose, selling un-kosher meat as kosher and pocketing the difference, how the community had suffered from this. People threw away their wedding china, remodeled kitchens, etc., (and in a pretty upscale neighborhood; these weren't cheap remodels, he was telling me about Wolf and Sub-Zero stuff being put out the curb as if it were garbage).

Granite counter tops had to be replaced, rituals had to be performed, etc. Even though the people didn't know the meat was un-kosher, the things they had possibly contaminated had to be cast off. Personally, I'd like advance notice next time a bunch of rich Jews who take their religion too seriously are throwing away high dollar kitchen appliances, but I found the story fascinating.

I remember thinking, 'Is this what they mean by unassimilated?' But the same guy another time told me he keeps kosher, but his secretary was a goy, and at lunch he'd bought a sandwich from the kosher deli, and she'd bought one from someplace else. And he said their sandwiches appeared to be identical. They were both pastrami, the bread looked the same, they had the same condiments and veggies. As in, might have come from the same place, but didn't.

He said, 'Her sandwich was less than five bucks, mine cost twelve. Was my sandwich better? I hope it wasn't worse.'

Okay, dude, that is just unAmerican. You're her boss. Swap her half of your sandwich for half of hers and find out if they're the same or not. That's what an American would do because an American has choices. We value them. We make a fetish of choice.

Back to the movie: this poor professor who's life is going into the shitter at every turn, I can see why some Americans would balk, he's not that trapped. He could do what I'd do in his place...

The guy isn't all that unassimilated, really, but he's observant enough to put his son in Hebrew School (great place to buy grass, apparently), and to seek advice from rabbis.

And as much has he might try to be a mensch, a 'serious man,' nobody takes him seriously for one second. Not his baleful neighbor, his kids, his estranged wife, not her boyfriend. And definitely not the rabbi who doesn't seem to understand why a guy would be unwilling to pay for his wife's boyfriend's funeral. In the end, in fact, he even lacks a bit of integrity, which would also be a thing implied by the title of the film, but maybe he's realizing that the world isn't going to treat him as a mensch, maybe he doesn't have to be one when they're not looking...

I'd tell you the hilarious story of the goy's teeth, but it'd be a spoiler, and I doubt I could write it in a way that would be anywhere near as funny as watching it.

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