A Serious Man

Movie review by
James Rocchi, Common Sense Media
A Serious Man Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Brilliant but bleak comedy for mature Coen brothers fans.
  • R
  • 2009
  • 105 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 8 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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.

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byKKH July 25, 2020

It’s for you if you like nonsense

Entertaining, but unsatisfying as far as movies go. It was about a series of unfortunate events and that’s it. There was no ending to this movie, no moral of t... Continue reading
Adult Written byBoneyardLimited March 8, 2019

It’s the community drama of Edward Scissorhands and the family drama of My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding but with none of the life, color, alacrity, or interest.

This is what happens when you take interesting, quirky characters and do nothing with them. It’s full of cringe comedy and nothing else, which just emphasizes t... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byTophatman May 9, 2020

I don't understand why this is 17+

The age rating for this is much to high. Very little nubity and very little violence. 17+ is insane. For content this is higher than Fargo.
Teen, 16 years old Written bycsm_overreacts June 10, 2019

light nudity and language, deep conceptual film

The only reason I rate this 14 and not younger is that a younger person might not appreciate the movie as much. It provokes a lot of question about religion and... Continue reading

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. 

Talk to your kids 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

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