A Serious Man
The film captures the drama of "American Jews becoming white," and it does so with just the right amount of nostalgia and the kind of self-deprecating humor that Jews (pardon the essentialism) appreciate so much. The Coens manage to bring back to life the haunting memory of the shtetls and Yiddish, which for some American Jews is of course still a very much living reality; and to do so with cynicism, but also with love and true affection. The film lends itself perfectly to class discussions about modernity and the promise of the "new world" in relation to modern Jewish history. Though humorous, the film serves as a great platform through which to discuss some very serious tensions between the history of Jews as Other and the present Judeo-Christian reality created as a master narrative in the United States after World War II. It also touches upon tensions between the idea of a Jewish messianic time and the reality of the present (Christian?) world we inhabit as American modernized citizens.
While several critics have accused the Coen brothers of producing a self- loathing film full of anti-Semitic caricatured representations of Jews, I would argue on the contrary that the film demonstrates just the right amount of self-criticism, which is necessary to assure the humanist impact of what Hannah Arendt calls "the Jew as Pariah."