The Hebrew School Connection
[Editor’s Note: ‘A Serious Man’ isn’t a mystery, so revealing the ending isn’t exactly ruining it. However, if you plan to see it and would rather be surprised . . . stop reading here. Regular blog readers may recall that I ran a post, “Economic Stimulus –Local Version” commenting on the mini-city that sprung up on Highway 7 while the movie was filming in St. Louis Park last Fall.]
It’s hard not to like a movie that ends with a tornado bearing down on the Hebrew School where you spent thousands of stultifyingly bored hours growing up.
But I didn’t.
Too dark. Too dry. And with none of the sweetness or inspired comic schtick in previous Coen brothers’ movies like Raisin’ Arizona (my personal favorite), The Big Lebowski, or The Hudsucker Proxy.
Is that really ’60’s St. Louis Park?
Still, if you’re Jewish, over 40, and have a St. Louis Park connection . . . you may want to see it just for the local flavor.
The bar mitzvah scene was filmed at St. Louis Park’s B’nai Emet synagogue, and many of the extras and smaller, supporting roles are members of the local community. For example, the retired cantor (prayer leader) at Beth El Synagogue played the cantor in the movie.
Other trivia tidbits: a reference to Fern Hill Road (no such thing — it’s actually a St. Louis Park neighborhood); Ruth Brin (an esteemed elder in the real-life Jewish community who just passed away); long-defunct Red Owl grocery stores; and Ron Meshbesher, locally prominent criminal defense lawyer.
Sticklers for accuracy (of a sort), the law firm’s real-life address shows up on an invoice in the fictional movie.
In the bigger scheme, though, the surprise was how little the Midwestern suburb depicted in the movie resembled the St. Louis Park I knew and grew up in, only 5 years later than the Coens.
Physically, the “movie” neighborhood was very flat, broad, and almost windswept –like what you’d imagine a small town in ’50’s Nebraska might feel like.
By contrast, the real-life St. Louis Park is leafy and cozy, and on the doorstep of countless lakes, parks, and other recreation.
And while ’60’s St. Louis Park could definitely breed cynical detachment — after all, the Coen brothers were a product of that environment — it also produced Thomas L. Friedman and Al Franken.
Oh, yeah: the Hebrew School connection.
My pet theory is that “torture-by-boredom,” as practiced by old-time Hebrew Schools, explains the creative energy of many ex-St. Louis Parker’s.
How else do you entertain yourself when you’re confronted with such boredom?
The list of attendees includes Ethan and Joel Coen, writer Neal Karlen, and possibly Thomas L. Friedman (at least, several of his friends went).
P.S.: Here is Neal Karlen’s review of the movie, in The Washington Post.