101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

In a 2009 interview, Ethan Coen described the approach that he and his brother, Joel, took while writing this darkly comic period piece about a professor who endures multiple crises. “The fun of the story for us,” Joel said, “was inventing new ways to torture [our protagonist] Larry.” Because A Serious Man explores how life tests its leading character’s faith, many have drawn parallels between Larry Gopnik and the Biblical figure of Job. Like Job, Larry suffers endless travails—an estranged wife, a son preoccupied with weed, a student scheming to avoid a failing grade. Also like Job, Larry seeks solace in religion, but that proves a source of consternation rather than comfort. (Among the Coens’ inspirations for this piece was an inscrutable rabbi they knew as children.) As the Coens relentlessly torment Larry, a cruel theme emerges—in some lives, misfortune presages oblivion, not salvation.