A Serious Man (2009)

R | 104-105 mins | Black comedy | 2 October 2009

THIS TITLE IS OUTSIDE THE AFI CATALOG OF FEATURE FILMS (1893-1993)
You may also like these titles from the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, the most authoritative documentation of the First 100 Years of American filmmaking.

Directors:

Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Writers:

Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Producers:

Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Cinematographer:

Roger Deakins

Editor:

Roderick Jaynes

Production Designer:

Jess Gonchor

Production Companies:

Working Title Films , Mike Zoss Productions
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HISTORY

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 ... More Less

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. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
2 Dec 2009.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 2009.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Sep 2009
p. 9.
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.
---
The Jewish Journal
Sep 2009
p. 12, 14.
Time
12 Oct 2009.
---
Variety
21 Sep 2009
p. 44, 52.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
Wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Cam loader
Cam PA
Cam PA
Chief lighting tech
Best boy elec
Rigging gaffer
Best boy rigging gaffer
Rigging elec
Rigging elec
Rigging elec
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Key rigging grip
Best boy rigging grip
Grip
Grip
Rigging grip
Rigging grip
Rigging grip
Video assist op
Cameras by
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Pen grappler
Art dept coord
Graphic des
Art dept PA
Asset PA
Art dept intern
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
Apprentice ed
Ed intern
Post prod facility
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set des
Lead dresser
On set dresser
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Prop master
Asst prop master
Props asst
Prop maker
Prop maker
Prop maker
Prop maker
Prop maker
Prop maker
Prop maker
Prop maker
Prop maker
Prop maker
Prop maker
Const coord
Const foreman
Const gang boss
Const gang boss
Const gang boss
Const gang boss
Const gang boss
Const utility
Lead scenic artist
Scenic gang boss
Sign writer
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
Painter
Stand-by painter
Head greensman
Greens gang boss
On set greens
Greens
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Cost supv--MN
Cost supv--LA
Key cost
Key set cost
Set cost
Stitcher
Cost asst
Cost asst
MUSIC
Mus ed
Orch comp and cond
Orch contractor
Mus clearances by
Mus clearances by
Copyist
Comp's asst
Mixed at
Mus scoring mixer
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Utility sd
Addl utility sd
Sd des
Dial ed
Dial ed
ADR ed
Foley ed
1st asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley mixer
Foley artist
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff foreman
Visual eff by
Exec visual eff supv, Luma Pictures
Visual eff supv, Luma Pictures
VFX supervising prod, Luma Pictures
VFX prod, Luma Pictures
Digital eff supv, Luma Pictures
CG supv, Luma Pictures
VFX coord, Luma Pictures
Digital coord, Luma Pictures
Tech coord, Luma Pictures
Lead compositor, Luma Pictures
Compositor, Luma Pictures
Compositor, Luma Pictures
Compositor, Luma Pictures
Compositor, Luma Pictures
Jr compositor, Luma Pictures
Jr compositor, Luma Pictures
Matte painter, Luma Pictures
Matte painter, Luma Pictures
Sr FX artist, Luma Pictures
Matchmove TD, Luma Pictures
Roto/Paint supv, Luma Pictures
Roto/Paint artist, Luma Pictures
Roto/Paint artist, Luma Pictures
Titles seq and subtitles
Titles des, Big Film Design
Lead digital artist, Big Film Design
Opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup des/Dept head
Makeup co-dept head
Asst makeup artist
Age/Eff makeup
Hair dept head
Asst hairsylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Casting assoc
Extras casting
Extras casting asst
Extras casting asst
Extras casting intern
Extras casting intern
Voice casting
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Post-prod supv
Prod accountant
1st asst accountant
2d asst accountant
2d asst accountant
Payroll accountant
Const accountant
Addl asst accountant
Post prod accountant
Asst prod coord
Loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Loc staff asst
Loc scout
Loc intern
Unit pub
The last of the just
Office prod asst
Office prod asst
Office prod intern
Office prod intern
Medic
Chef
Chef
Craft service
Craft service asst
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation co-capt
Picture car coord
Dispatcher
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Weather guru
Language and liturgy
Language and liturgy
Language and liturgy
Language and liturgy
Yiddish translation
Yiddish translation
Chief operating officer, Working Title
Exec in charge of prod, Working Title
Head of legal & bus affairs, Working Title
Legal & bus affairs mgr, Working Title
Asst to Tim Bevan, Working Title
Asst to Eric Fellner, Working Title
Clearance services provided by
Clearance services provided by
Clearance services provided by
Serious matters
Composting services
Composting services
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
"Larry" stand in
"Sy"/"Uncle Arthur" stand in
"Danny" stand in
COLOR PERSONNEL
Digital intermediate and dailies by
Supv digital colorist, EFILM
Digital intermediate prod, EFILM
Ditial intermediate ed, EFILM
Dailies prod, EFILM
SOURCES
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
+
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.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 October 2009
Premiere Information:
Toronto International Film Festival screening: 12 September 2009
Friars Club Comedy Film Festival screening (New York): 24 September 2009
Production Date:
8 September--5 November 2008
Copyright Claimant:
Focus Features LLC
Copyright Date:
2009
Copyright Number:
Physical Properties:
Sound
dts; Dolby Digital; SDDS Sony Dynamic Digital Sound in selected theatres
Color
deluxe
Widescreen/ratio
Lenses/Prints
Kodak Motion Picture Film
Duration(in mins):
104-105
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
45447
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.