A Serious Man Movie Poster Image

A Serious Man

Brilliant but bleak comedy for mature Coen brothers fans.
Parents recommend
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 105 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Amid the movie's acrid humor and mature subject matter is a good deal of food for thought -- if not a constructively positive take-away. The lead character struggles to do the right thing, and his actions have definitive consequences.

Positive role models

The characters here are all fairly flawed -- that makes them realistic, but it doesn't necessarily make them the best role models. The lead character makes an important moral decision and is found wanting; at other times, though, he demonstrates real decency and endeavors to do the right thing.


Some violence, including a stabbing (with blood) in the prologue. There's also a shooting and a beating; these take place in dream sequences but are depicted with vigor and blood. The corpse of a hunted deer is also seen.


A topless sunbather is seen from a distance; a dream sequence includes a sex scene in which a woman is wearing a bra and a man's bare chest is shown. Discussions of sex and infidelity.


Constant, including "f--k" and its derivatives, "s--t," "a--hole," "pissed," "crap," "oh my God," and "Jesus." "Jew" is used briefly, presumably derogatorily.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters drink wine and hard liquor and smoke pipes and cigarettes. Marijuana is also smoked -- in some cases by 12-year-old boys -- and discussed extensively.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the Coen brothers' A Serious Man features extensive useof marijuana (in some cases by pre-teen boys) and lots of profanity (from "f--k" and "s--t" on down the line). There's some sexual material as well (a distant view of a topless sunbather, a dream-sequence sex scene), and some brief but bloody moments of violence. The movie also offers viewers complex questions to ponder on the subjects of faith and religion.

What's the story?

In 1967 Minnesota, husband/father/physics professor Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg) is dealing with a series of calamities -- his wife wants a divorce, his children are indifferent, a student is trying to bribe him for a better grade, and he's waiting to hear whether he'll receive academic tenure. As Larry tries to deal with these problems (and his son prepares for his bar mitzvah while dodging the pot dealer he owes money to), all the characters ask: What does God want from me? And what does he want for me?

Is it any good?


A Serious Man seems designed to baffle, but it actually lingers long after its small, sly jokes and plot complications finish. It's a particularly thin slice-of-life look that peers at a '60s Midwestern Jewish family as if through a microscope. Ethan and Joel Coen have always been interested in morality as a theme, and A Serious Man is no exception, with Larry (played by stage actor Stuhlbarg in an excellent performance) dealing with the large and small indignities of life while looking to religion for answers, even though he fails to find them.

Don't go to A Serious Man expecting the big laughs and quotable lines of, say, The Big Lebowski; this movie is, while funny, a much more serious work. The cinematography by longtime Coen collaborator Roger Deakins is superb, and the entire cast does excellent work. A Serious Man may look like a finely observed, small-scale work, but the questions it asks will linger with you long after its haunting final image. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the film's central question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Do our actions have consequences?

  • The film also offers great opportunities for discussion of the natureof religious belief. What questions does the movie raise about faith? Does it provide any answers?

  • What does this movie have in common thematically with the Coen brothers' other movies? What do their films say about the importance of morality and ethics in a world that seems to respect neither?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 2, 2009
DVD/Streaming release date:February 10, 2010
Cast:Adam Arkin, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind
Directors:Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Studio:Focus Features
Run time:105 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence

This review of A Serious Man was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written byPS95 December 24, 2010

Great for mature teenagers, but only if their parents can deal with the likely discussions that result

Not for young children, primarily because they would not understand the serious themes dealt with. Great for mature teenagers who are beginning to question life's mysteries and issues of faith and morality. A good way to open up pithy family discussions, but only if both parents and teens are up to the challenge.
Kid, 12 years old April 17, 2010

A good black comedy, but most kid's wont enjoy it

This is a very bleak, obscure comedy by the Coen Brothers, most notable for making movies like "Fargo" "The Big Lebowski" and "Burn After Reading." People need to know that compared to those films, the humour in this movie is not obvious and very very dry and obscure. It's deep and complex, with lots of themes including Judaism, anti-Semitics, drug use, divorce, death, terminal illness, child pornography etc. The film is set in the 1960s and it is based around the life of a highschool teacher who is cursed with bad luck. Everything is bad in his life, and some people might find this boring, but if you look deeper into the whole thing, there is lots of very funny humour. With his wife wanting a divorce, his son's bar mitzvah coming up and a korean student conning him into giving him a good exam mark, he is very stressed and consults three different rabbis, trying to find out the meaning of his life. Some of it can be boring and bleak, but I found most of it was very subtle and very funny. The ending may be frustrating to some, but I really enjoyed this film and thought it was classic Coen Brother's style. You actually feel very sorry for the main character and what he's going through. There is some swearing including f***, among others, some sexual references including a fantasy sex scene where a woman is thrusting on top of him (brief and nothing shown), a man is accused of sodomy and child abuse, people are shown smoking marijuana and getting high (comedic), and there is some violence including a man being shot in the neck (from a distance.) All in all, I really enjoyed A Serious Man, but I think you have to have an acquired taste to really embrace the feel and mood of the comedy, and the subtlety of it. :)
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written bymasonlackey January 15, 2011


a great storyline very inspirational movie its great!!!
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking