Not Quite Horror: “A Serious Man” (2009)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

A Serious Man (2009)

The Monster: Larry Gopnik is the monster in this film, but he is a very human and noble monster. There’s nothing wrong with Larry Gopnik, except no one will take him seriously. His wife is leaving him for another man, and her lover wants all three of them to talk about it. He has a smart but unstable brother. He feels threatened by his neighbors.

As the pressure builds, Larry Gopnik must face the real possibility he will never be taken seriously by anyone.

The Horror: Miserable as his life is, Gopnik seems destined to escape his own bad luck when the universe itself seems to drop in on him. He feels the weight of this horror in his office, but his son sees it in the form of a tornado approaching his school. As is Coen Brothers tradition, the search for dignity and meaning are met with shocking confusion.

The Shared Fate: Like Larry Gopnik, we are constantly at the mercy of others. We can try to find a higher authority to appeal to, but none of these authorities can save the average people in Coen Brothers movies. We are doomed to be treated as others see fit to treat us.

Even when his world makes him into a monster, Gopnik tries. He appeals to three rabbis, and he finds no help. The wisest of these rabbis refuses to see him, but shares a very honest – and not serious – moment with Gopnik’s son later in the film. Perhaps we should all be more like the son than the father.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen