Coenheads, The Controversy

The Dude Abides -- John Goodman and Jeff Bridges in "The Big Lebowski."

 A Serious Man, the new movie from the Coen Brothers, arrives -- as so many of their films -- to cheers and jeers. There is no critical consensus on this Story of Job set in 1967 Minneapolis, less funny ha-ha than seriously funny-strange. Believers call it a Biblical parable about a rational man whose life is altered by mystical, perhaps, satanic, phenomena. Here's Roger Ebert, who embraces it as "not a laugh-laugh" comedy, but a "wince-wince" one. Agnostics dismiss  it as "bleak," as does David Denby.  I call it both. (I'll link to my review when it goes on-line, later today.) No one creates atmosphere like the brothers Coen, whose films are a cold fusion of comedy and tragedy, sceptism and certainty, seriousness and frivolity. They are a genre unto themselves. But it's worth noting that whether they;'re mining the serious or frivolous in their narratives, there is likely to be an Avenging Devil (John Goodman in Barton Fink, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, Fyvush Finkel in Serious) who blows into town to show that Fate is stronger than Faith.

Salon asked some prominent cineastes to name their favorite Coen Brothers picture. My top-of -head response is Raising Arizona, which tonally is the most consistent. My more considered response is Fargo. For pure fun, I go for The Big Lebowski. You?