A Serious Man

2009 film directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

A Serious Man is a 2009 black comedy-drama film about a Minnesota Jewish man whose life crumbles both professionally and personally, leading him to questions about his faith.

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Larry Gopnik

  • The Uncertainty Principle. It proves we can't ever really know... what's going on. So it shouldn't bother you. Not being able to figure anything out. Although you will be responsible for this on the mid-term.
  • Mere sir my sir?

Sy Ableman

  • Embers is not the forum for legalities, Larry.
  • The Jolly Roger is the appropriate course of action. It has a swimming pool. It is eminently habitable.


Rabbi Nachtner: You know Lee Sussman.
Larry Gopnik: Doctor Sussman? I think I - yeah.
Rabbi Nachtner: Did he ever tell you about the goy's teeth?
Larry Gopnik: No. Uh... what goy?
Rabbi Nachtner: So... Lee is at work one day; you know he has the orthodontic practice there at Great Bear. He's making a plaster mold - it's for corrective bridge work - in the mouth of one of his patients, Russell Kraus. The mold dries and Lee is examining it one day before fabricating an appliance. He notices something unusual. There appears to be something engraved on the inside of the patient's lower incisors. He vav shin yud ayin nun yud. "Hwshy 'ny". "Help me, save me". This in a goy's mouth, Larry. He calls the goy back on the pretense of needing additional measurements for the appliance. "How are you? Noticed any other problems with your teeth?" No. There it is. "Hwshy 'ny". "Help me". Son of a gun. Sussman goes home. Can Sussman eat? Sussman can't eat. Can Sussman sleep? Sussman can't sleep. Sussman looks at the molds of his other patients, goy and Jew alike, seeking other messages. He finds none. He looks in his own mouth. Nothing. He looks in his wife's mouth. Nothing. But Sussman is an educated man. Not the world's greatest sage, maybe, no Rabbi Marshak, but he knows a thing or two from the Zohar and the Caballah. He knows that every Hebrew letter has its numeric equivalent. 8-4-5-4-4-7-3. Seven digits... a phone number, maybe? "Hello? Do you know a goy named Kraus, Russell Kraus?" Who? "Where have I called? The Red Owl in Bloomington. Thanks so much." He goes. It's a Red Owl. Groceries; what have you. Sussman goes home. What does it mean? He has to find out if he is ever to sleep again. He goes to see... the Rabbi Nachtner. He comes in, he sits right where you're sitting right now. "What does it mean, Rabbi? Is it a sign from Hashem, 'Help me'? I, Sussman, should be doing something to help this goy? Doing what? The teeth don't say. Or maybe I'm supposed to help people generally, lead a more righteous life? Is the answer in Caballah? In Torah? Or is there even a question? Tell me, Rabbi, what can such a sign mean?"
[pause as the Rabbi drinks his tea]
Larry Gopnik: So what did you tell him?
Rabbi Nachtner: Sussman?
Larry Gopnik: Yes!
Rabbi Nachtner: Is it... relevant?
Larry Gopnik: Well, isn't that why you're telling me?
Rabbi Nachtner: Okay. Nachtner says, look. The teeth, we don't know. A sign from Hashem? Don't know. Helping others... couldn't hurt.
Larry Gopnik: No! No, but... who put it there? Was it for him, Sussman, or for whoever found it, or for just, for, for...
Rabbi Nachtner: We can't know everything.
Larry Gopnik: It sounds like you don't know anything! Why even tell me the story?
Rabbi Nachtner: [chuckling] First I should tell you, then I shouldn't.
Larry Gopnik: What happened to Sussman?
Rabbi Nachtner: What would happen? Not much. He went back to work. For a while he checked every patient's teeth for new messages. He didn't find any. In time, he found he'd stopped checking. He returned to life. These questions that are bothering you, Larry - maybe they're like a toothache. We feel them for a while, then they go away.
Larry Gopnik: I don't want it to just go away! I want an answer!
Rabbi Nachtner: Sure! We all want the answer! But Hashem doesn't owe us the answer, Larry. Hashem doesn't owe us anything. The obligation runs the other way.
Larry Gopnik: Why does he make us feel the questions if he's not gonna give us any answers?
Rabbi Nachtner: He hasn't told me.
[Larry puts his face in his hands in despair]
Larry Gopnik: And... what happened to the goy?
Rabbi Nachtner: The goy? Who cares?

Larry Gopnik: So, uh, what can I do for you?
Clive Park: Uh, Dr. Gopnik, I believe the results of physics mid-term were unjust.
Larry Gopnik: Uh-huh, how so?
Clive Park: I received an unsatisfactory grade. In fact: F, the failing grade.
Larry Gopnik: Uh, yes. You failed the mid-term. That's accurate.
Clive Park: Yes, but this is not just. I was unaware to be examined on the mathematics.
Larry Gopnik: Well, you can't do physics without mathematics, really, can you?
Clive Park: If I receive failing grade I lose my scholarship, and feel shame. I understand the physics. I understand the dead cat.
Larry Gopnik: You understand the dead cat? But... you... you can't really understand the physics without understanding the math. The math tells how it really works. That's the real thing; the stories I give you in class are just illustrative; they're like, fables, say, to help give you a picture. An imperfect model. I mean - even I don't understand the dead cat. The math is how it really works.
Clive Park: Very difficult... very difficult...
Larry Gopnik: Well, I... I'm sorry, but I... what do you propose?
Clive Park: Passing grade.
Larry Gopnik: No no, I...
Clive Park: Or perhaps I can take the mid-term again. Now I know it covers mathematics.
Larry Gopnik: Well, the other students wouldn't like that, would they, if one student gets to retake the test till he gets a grade he likes?
Clive Park: Secret test.
Larry Gopnik: No, I'm afraid...
Clive Park: Hush-hush.
Larry Gopnik: No, that's just not workable. I'm afraid we'll just have to bite the bullet on this thing, Clive, and...
Clive Park: Very troubling... very troubling...

Judith Gopnik: We shouldn't put the kids in the middle of this, Larry.
Larry Gopnik: The kids aren't...
Judith Gopnik: I'm saying "we." I'm not pointing fingers.
Sy Ableman: No one is playing the "blame game," Larry.
Larry Gopnik: I didn't say anyone was!
Judith Gopnik: Well let's not play He said, She said, either.
Larry Gopnik: I wasn't! I-...
Sy Ableman: Aw right, well let's just step back, and defuse the situation, I find, sometimes, if I count to ten. [pause] One... two... three... fou... Or silently. [Long pause]
Judith Gopnik: Really, to keep things on an even keel, especially now, leading up to Danny's bar mitzvah...
Sy Ableman: A child's bar mitzvah, Larry!
Judith Gopnik: Sy and I think it's best if you move out of the house.
Larry Gopnik: Move out?
Sy Ableman: It makes eminent sense.
Judith Gopnik: Things can't continue as they...
Larry Gopnik: Move out! Where would I go?
Sy Ableman: Well, for instance, the Jolly Roger is quite livable. Not expensive, and the rooms are eminently habitable.
Judith Gopnik: This would allow you to visit the kids.
Sy Ableman: There's convenience in its fava. There's a pool...
Larry Gopnik: Wouldn't it make more sense for you to move in with Sy?
Judith Gopnik: [Shocked pause] Larry!
Sy Ableman: Larry, you're jesting!
Judith Gopnik: Larry, there is much to accomplish before that can happen.
Sy Ableman: Larry, Larry, Larry. I think, really, the Jolly Roger is the appropriate course of action. It has a pool.

Arlen Finkle: We, uh, we decide on Wednesday, so if there's anything you want to submit in support of your tenure application, we should have it by then. That's all.
Larry Gopnik: Submit. What. What do you...
Arlen Finkle: Well. Anything. Published work. Anything else you've done outside of the institution. Any work that we might not be aware of.
Larry Gopnik: I haven't done anything.
Arlen Finkle: Uh-huh.
Larry Gopnik: I haven't published.
Arlen Finkle: Uh-huh.
Larry Gopnik: Are you still getting those letters?
Arlen Finkle: Uh-huh.
Larry Gopnik: Those anonymous...
Arlen Finkle: Yes, I know. Yes.
Larry Gopnik: Okay. Okay. Wednesday.
Arlen Finkle: Okay. Don't worry. Doing nothing is not bad. Ipso facto.

Clive's Father: Culture clash. Culture clash.
Larry Gopnik: With all respect, Mr. Park, I don't think it's that.
Clive's Father: Yes.
Larry Gopnik: No. It would be a culture clash if it were the custom in your land to bribe people for grades.
Clive's Father: Yes.
Larry Gopnik: So... you're saying it is the custom?
Clive's Father: No, this is a defamation. Grounds for lawsuit.
Larry Gopnik: Let me get this straight: you're threatening to sue me for defaming your son?
Clive's Father: Yes.
Larry Gopnik: But it would...
Mr. Brandt: Is this man bothering you?
Larry Gopnik: Is he bothering me? No. I, uh...
[Larry stares awkwardly at Brandt until he leaves]
Larry Gopnik: See... if it were defamation there would have to be someone I was defaming him to, or I... all right, I... let's keep it simple. I could pretend the money never appeared. That's not defaming anyone.
Clive's Father: Yes. And a passing grade.
Larry Gopnik: Passing grade.
Clive's Father: Yes.
Larry Gopnik: Or... you'll sue me.
Clive's Father: For taking money.
Larry Gopnik: So he did leave the money.
Clive's Father: This is defamation!
Larry Gopnik: It doesn't make sense. Either he left the money or he didn't.
Clive's Father: Please. Accept the mystery.
Larry Gopnik: You can't have it both ways!
Clive's Father: Why not?

Larry Gopnik: Well, you know, the way I look at it, it's an opportunity for me to really sit down and figure things out and look at the world afresh instead of just, you know, settling for the routine, tired old way of looking at things.
Divorce Lawyer: Really?
Larry Gopnik: I don't know. Maybe not.

Rabbi Scott: No, of course not. I am the junior rabbi. And it's true, the point-of-view of somebody who's older and perhaps had similar problems might be more valid. And you should see the senior rabbi as well, by all means. Or even Minda if you can get in, he's quite busy. But maybe - can I share something with you? Because I too have had the feeling of losing track of Hashem, which is the problem here. I too have forgotten how to see Him in the world. And when that happens you think, well, if I can't see Him, He isn't there any more, He's gone. But that's not the case. You just need to remember how to see Him. Am I right?
[He rises and goes to the window]
Rabbi Scott: I mean, the parking lot here. Not much to see. It is a different angle on the same parking lot we saw from the Hebrew school window. But if you imagine yourself a visitor, somebody who isn't familiar with these... autos and such... somebody still with a capacity for wonder... Someone with a fresh... perspective. That's what it is, Larry.
Larry Gopnik: Um...
Rabbi Scott: Because with the right perspective you can see Hashem, you know, reaching into the world. He is in the world, not just in shul. It sounds to me like you're looking at the world, looking at your wife, through tired eyes. It sounds like she's become a sort of... thing... a problem... a thing...
Larry Gopnik: Well, she's, she's seeing Sy Ableman.
Rabbi Scott: Oh.
Larry Gopnik: She's, they're planning, that's why they want the Gett.
Rabbi Scott: Oh. I'm sorry.
Larry Gopnik: It was his idea.
Rabbi Scott: Well, they do need a Gett to remarry in the faith. But this is life. For you too. You can't cut yourself off from the mystical or you'll be-you'll remain-completely lost. You have to see these things as expressions of God's will. You don't have to like it, of course.
Larry Gopnik: The boss isn't always right, but he's always the boss.
Rabbi Scott: Ha-ha-ha! That's right, things aren't so bad. Look at the parking lot, Larry.
[Rabbi Scott gazes out, marveling]
Rabbi Scott: Just look at that parking lot.

Larry Gopnik: We had, I think, a good talk, the other day, but you left something...
Clive Park: I didn't leave it.
Larry Gopnik: Well, you don't even know what I was gonna say.
Clive Park: I didn't leave anything. I'm not missing anything. I know where everything is.
Larry Gopnik: Well... then, Clive, where did this come from? [raises his eyebrows] This is here, isn't it?
Clive Park: Yes, sir. That is there.
Larry Gopnik: This is not nothing; this is something.
Clive Park: Yes. That is something. [a beat] What is it?
Larry Gopnik: You know what it is! I believe. And you know I can't keep it, Clive.
Clive Park: Yes sir.
Larry Gopnik: I'll have to pass it on to Professor Finkle, along with my suspicions about where it came from. Actions have consequences.
Clive Park: Yes sir. Often.
Larry Gopnik: No, always! Actions always have consequences! In this office, actions have consequences!
Clive Park: Yes sir.
Larry Gopnik: Not just physics, morally.
Clive Park: Yes.
Larry Gopnik: And we both know about your actions.
Clive Park: No sir. I know about my actions.
Larry Gopnik: I can interpret, Clive. I know what you meant me to understand.
Clive Park: Meer sir my sir.
Larry Gopnik: Meer sir my sir?
Clive Park: [Careful enunciation] Mere... surmise. Sir. Very uncertain.

Larry Gopnik: Please. I need help. I've already talked to the other rabbis. Please. It's not about Danny's bar mitzvah - my boy Danny, this coming Shabbos, very joyous event, that's all fine. It's, it's more about myself, I've... I've had quite a bit of tsuris lately. Marital problems, professional, you name it. This is not a frivolous request. This is a ser- I'm a ser- I'm, uh, I've tried to be a serious man, you know? Tried to do right, be a member of the community, raise the- Danny, Sarah, they both go to school, Hebrew school, a good breakfast... Well, Danny goes to Hebrew school, Sarah doesn't have time, she mostly... washes her hair. Apparently there are several steps involved, but you don't have to tell Marshak that. Just tell him I need help. Please? I need help.
[The secretary rises, goes to the door behind her, opens it, shuffles into the dimness where she speaks quietly with the aged rabbi, who is idle. She shuffles back, closes the door and sits down]
Marshak's Secretary: The rabbi is busy.
Larry Gopnik: He didn't look busy!
Marshak's Secretary: He's thinking.

Larry Gopnik: She seems to be asking an awful lot. But then, I don't know. Somebody has to pay for Sy's funeral.
Rabbi Nachtner: Uh-huh.
Larry Gopnik: His own estate is in probate, but why does it have to be me? Or is it wrong to complain? Judy says it is. But I'm so strapped for cash right now, carrying the mortgage, and paying for the Jolly Roger, and I wrecked the car, and Danny's Bar Mitzvah coming up, I...
Rabbi Nachtner: Something like this... there's never a good time.
Larry Gopnik: I don't know where it all leaves me, Sy's death. Obviously it's not gonna go back like it was.
Rabbi Nachtner: Mm. Would you even want that, Larry?
Larry Gopnik: No, I- well, yeah... sometimes... or... I don't know; I guess the honest answer is "I don't know". What was my life before? Not what I thought it was. What does it all mean? What is Hashem trying to tell me, making me pay for Sy Ableman's funeral?
Rabbi Nachtner: Mm.
Larry Gopnik: And did I tell you I had a car accident the same time Sy had his? The same instant, for all I know. I mean, is Hashem telling me that Sy Ableman is me? Or that we are all one, or something?
Rabbi Nachtner: How does God speak to us? A good question.

Friend at the Picnic: Sometimes these things just aren't meant to be. And it can take a while before you feel what was always there, for better or worse.
Larry Gopnik: I never felt it! It was a bolt from the blue! What does that mean! Everything that I thought was one way turns out to be another.
Friend at the Picnic: Then-it's an opportunity to learn how things really are. I'm sorry-I don't mean to sound glib. It's not always easy, deciphering what God is trying to tell you.
Larry Gopnik: I'll say.
Friend at the Picnic: But it's not something you have to figure out all by yourself. We're Jews, we have that well of tradition to draw on, to help us understand. When we're puzzled we have all the stories that have been handed down from people who had the same problems.


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