Thursday, November 05, 2009

A SERIOUS MAN: Questions For Further Study

1. What is that quote at the start of the film? From a non-Jewish source? How does it shed light on the Jewish world of the film? Specifically, how does it relate to the theology of the first rabbi?

2. How does the Dybbuk story relate to the rest of the film?

3. What is the signifcance of the story of the goy’s teeth? Do you have anything written on the inside of your teeth?

4. Gopnik is dismissive of the stories / fables used to illustrate the principles of physics which he teaches. He claims not to understand the stories, but to put all his faith in the mathematics. How does this relate to the mysterious fables related in the film: the dybbuk, the goy’s teeth?

5. What’s the difference between Gopnik’s blackboards full of formulae, which don’t seem to help him to much, and Uncle Arthur’s notebook full of formulae, which seem to get him in serious trouble? Did anybody else think of A Beautiful Mind?

6. Do the three rabbis correspond to Job’s comforters?

7. What is the Grace Slick quote? What is its function: to undermine the rabbi as a source of wisdom, or to affirm something about popular culture? How does it relate to the warm affirmations of the son’s bar mitzvah, which are oblivious to the son’s actual state of mind? Is all that stuff cynical? Is the film cynical? Is Solomon cynical?

8. What was that science fiction TV show, with the brain in the vat?

9. Think about the recurring phrase “a serious man.”

10. What is the significance of the simultaneity of the two car accidents?

11. Why do critics say there’s no God in this film apart from the film-makers, and they are a cruel God? Is the God of the film cruel? Is He any different than the God of biblical wisdom literature? What does Robert K. Johnston think?

12. One rabbi contrasts a Jewish notion of the afterlife – “Abraham’s bosom” – with the Christian idea of heaven, which he compares to Canada (thereby showing great wisdom). Gopnik sends Uncle Arthur to Canada in a canoe. Or tries to. Significance?

13. If Canada is heaven, is North Dakota hell, Vanity Fair, the place of temptation and damnation? Isn’t Fargo in North Dakota? What would Marge Gunderson say about this?

14. Did this film make anybody else think of Crimes and Misdemeanors?

15. If you had a neighbour’s wife like Mrs. Samsky, would you covet her? Would you be more or less inclined to adjust the TV antenna whenever your son complained about poor reception? Did you like F Troop when you were a kid? I did.


16. Think about the variations on the phrase “I didn’t do anything.” A protestation of Gopnik’s innocence: “I don’t deserve this, I didn’t do anything wrong”? A perhaps unconsious confession of sins of omission? How does this assertion relate to Gopnik’s dreams? Is he a good man for not having actually had sex with his neighbour’s wife, though clearly he was tempted? Is he a bad man for not having actually taken his brother to Canada, sending him off with an envelope of cash? How good are we for not doing the wrong we dream of doing? How bad are we for not doing the good we dream of doing?

17. What’s the difference between using the bribe money to bless his brother, or using it to pay his legal bills? Does the apparent choice to do the latter somehow lead to the bad things that happen to this “good” man? Or is it foolish to look for cause and effect in this? Does this relate to Gopnik’s lectures on uncertainty, etc?

18. How does the tornado relate to the flood at the end of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Both seem “acts of God”, the latter clearly an affirmation of the validity of faith (as represented by the blind prophet) and a refutation of the “wisdom of men” (as embodied by Everett), the former seemingly a reversal of the apparent restoration of divine blessings which would more closely parallel the resolution of the biblical Job story.


Anonymous said...

What *is* the quote? I don't remember.

Ron Reed said...

Well, that's your question for further study. The teacher can't start doing your homework for you, now, can he? (Because, in fact, he doesn't know.)