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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now let's hear about two brothers who help you explore some strange places. When Joel and Ethan Coen make a movie, it's pretty much guaranteed to be dark, from the grim and bloody "No Country for Old Men" to the hilarious and violent "Fargo."

Kenneth Turan reviews their latest.

KENNETH TURAN: "A Serious Man" is set in 1967, in the Jewish community in suburban Minneapolis, a time and place that closely echoes the Coens' own background.

The serious man in question is Larry Gopnik, a university professor who's always tried to be the best person he can. So he's totally unprepared when every aspect of his life begins to collapse � starting with his wife leaving him for the pompous Sy Ableman.

(Soundbite of movie, "A Serious Man")

Ms. SARI LENNICK (Actress): (as Judith Gopnik) To keep things on an even keel, leading up to Danny's bar mitz-...

Mr. FRED MELAMED (Actor): (as Sy Ableman) Child's bar mitzvah.

Ms. LENNICK: (as Judith Gopnik) Sy and I think it's best if you move out of the house.

Mr. MICHAEL STUHLBARG (Actor): (as Larry Gopnik) Move out?

Mr. MELAMED: (as Sy Ableman) Well, it makes eminent sense.

Ms. LENNICK: (as Judith Gopnik) Things can't continue...

Mr. STUHLBARG: (as Larry Gopnik) Move out? Where would I go?

TURAN: At the university, Gopnik is anonymously accused of moral turpitude. And don't even ask about Gopnik's strange brother Arthur. It's no wonder that the man becomes desperate for rabbinic advice.

(Soundbite of movie, "A Serious Man")

Mr. STUHLBARG: (as 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 shabbas, very joyous event, that's all fine. It's more about myself. I've had quite a bit at serous lately - marital problems, professional, you name it.

TURAN: On one level � actually, on many levels � "A Serious Man" is not exactly a happy story. The Coens' trademark blurring of the line between serious and comic has never been as artfully done as it is here. The more Larry Gopnik suffers the torments of Job, the more he deals with the absurd and hostile Coen universe, the more we're encouraged to wonder: Isn't this just the tiniest bit funny? And the realer the pain becomes, the more laughter becomes our only possible option.

Gopnik laments more than once, I've tried to be a serious man. I've tried to do right. Haven't we all, this haunting film says � haven't we all?

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the LA Times. You'll find scenes from "A Serious Man" and reviews of more new movies when you check the headlines today at NPR.org.

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