Willem (Leo) van der Zanden’s review published on Letterboxd:
Whether a person likes a film or not has a lot to do with that person's personality and life. Films that discuss the subjects that are close to your heart are the ones you will feel a stronger connection to than the ones that tell stories about stuff you couldn't give two shits about. Yet still, for people who have never gone to outer space or lived with fantastical creatures, we sure get a lot of enjoyment out of films like Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings (to name just a few). Of course, this goes for any form of media. Be it a book, a song, a painting; we connect to the forms of art that, if only for the smallest bit, tell us something about the lives we are leading ourselves.
In A Serious Man we follow Larry Gopnik, a math teacher in a Jewish community. His life seems to be as clear and ordered as it can normally be until it gets struck with event after event that brings everything down. His wife reveals that she has been seeing another man and asks for a divorce; at school, a Korean student and his father blackmail him to receive a passing grade; his brother lives at his house while he indulges in gambling; and his son needs to study for his Bar Mitzvah but indulges in drugs and music. Larry doesn't do anything, but all the shit comes on his plate and keeps doubling down till everything is about to collapse under the weight of a pure force of nature, a tornado, one of few things left in this world that we are not able to control. And that basically shows the main theme of A Serious Man, the existential pains of the most basic of lives, the futility of wanting and trying to have control of everything. Sometimes people get struck by a fate that they simply don't have any control over. The death of a loved one for example almost always comes when you least expect it and can rarely be avoided. Some find solace in religion for the answers to life and are satisfied when a rabbi comes with the advice to "just be good to people" (which of course isn't a bad advice at all). Others try to seek some sort of unifying truth in more scientific explanations. All of these come forth in the film in some way but all of them end up being as futile as the next. The punch line could jokingly be summed up as "The Lord works in mysterious ways". There isn't a way that we can ever find answers to the way life plays out and why it is filled with so much harm and pain for some and so much happiness and luck for others (even though the latter rarely becomes truth).
Enter my own experiences. As the film shows, I'm clearly not the only one struggling with the absurdity of life and the fact that we as human individuals are made to give meaning to our experiences for ourselves. And sometimes that's hard. So often you see how others, your family or your dearest friends, find the things that you have been longing for and working so hard for. Imagine your heart sinking back into your chest when you meet someone who thinks like you and laughs like you only to let them pass by because they can't be with you for whatever reason. Maybe it's a cultural thing (fucking hell, that can apparently still be a thing) or maybe it's because that person is already happy with somebody else. Imagine applying for a job that would give you both satisfaction and a nice amount of money only to be kicked out after a month because while you were doing good you weren't doing "great". Imagine trying so hard to get a stable life and constantly being pushed back by both major and minor inconveniences. It drags you down. It really does. For some this means they turn to alcohol or drugs or even worse than that. As lucky as I am, I've never felt the need to indulge in such matters. I've had my occasional beer, a glass of whiskey or friendshipial joint at a party but never did I make this a daily habit. I've always known how bad it could play out if I did. Instead, I found peace in music and films (of course).
As I said before, films are personal things. One person can hate a film, the other may adore it. Even a film speaking such a universal truth as A Serious Man can have their detractors. There is, of course, a great irony in all of this. While in my eyes it tells about the human experience in a way that I feel to be truthful and engaging, for others it may seem like heaps of incomprehensible nonsense and just a story about a man who does nothing and loses everything. The irony here is that this is a perfect film to show people how you think the world works and when you already feel the world continuously works against you, it won't feel very good when the person you show it to has more interest in the joke in the credits that says "No Jews were harmed in the making of this film." than the actual film. As unfortunate as that may be, that is indeed how life works.