A Serious Man: The Coen Brothers' Jewish Question

Not that the Coen brothers are self- or other-hating Jews, but as filmmakers they've always enjoyed anatomizing humanity's weak points and turning them into a kind of comedy

Wilson Webb / Focus Features

Michael Stuhlbarg stars in Joel and Ethan Coen's 1967-set A Serious Man

Stay through the end credits of Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man and you'll find the disclaimer: "No Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture." That statement is open to dispute, since most of the film's characters are Jewish — residents of suburban Minneapolis in 1967 — and just about all of them, it seems, are out to harm the Coens' hapless hero, college physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlberg), either intentionally or just by ignoring his mostly mute cries for help.

Not that the Coen brothers — who were raised in an...

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