The Man Who Knew Too Much


Philip Brubaker


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Accompanying text

When he asks his rabbi why all the misfortune, this is the response he gets: “Hashem doesn’t owe us the answer, Larry.”  Trouble follows him throughout A Serious Man, yet Larry Gopnik still views his life like a math problem.  There is always an explanation, right?  Despite all the catastrophes that happen to Larry through no fault of his own, he insists that Hashem is trying to tell him something.  What the rabbi would have him believe as a pious Jew is not to question Hashem’s will.  You should just live your life, and helping others couldn’t hurt.  Larry is a college professor constantly looking behind the curtain, always wanting to know more.  He can’t stop picking at his spiritual wound, and it never heals.
Larry is not interested in stories.  He likes equations, simply because there is a correct answer at the end.  Ironically, he places too much faith in a story his rabbi tells at a funeral.  For someone who lives his life by weighing the evidence and making a reasoned decision, Larry loses faith in himself without good reason.  The Coen brothers have explored ineffectual men in other films.  In an interview, they referred to Jerry Lundegaard from Fargo as a “numbnuts.”  The writer-directors are Larry’s true Hashem, and they assail him with one obstacle after another, which he takes very badly.
It speaks to Larry’s curiosity and high intelligence that he craves more knowledge. But in this case, his curiosity is in danger of killing the Schrödinger’s Cat.  What he wouldn’t give to feel comfort by the rabbi, like Sussman, the questioning dentist!  What Larry must do is look within himself to find the answer, but the Coen brothers won’t make such a neat and tidy solution for their beleaguered hero.  They are after the larger pie; to get all of us to start looking for answers on our own.