The title of the Coen Bros.’ A Serious Man is both ironic and not, as the filmmaking duo’s latest is a borderline-farce about a 1967 Midwestern Jewish family’s disintegration that slowly reveals layers of ever-graver fatalism. Of a thematic piece with their prior No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading, the Coens’ tale concerns physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a put-upon man whose wife is leaving him for a pretentious bon vivant (a fantastic Fred Melamed), whose student is attempting to bribe/blackmail him for a better grade, and whose brother (Richard Kind) is locked away in his bathroom draining a sebaceous cyst. Larry searches for answers to his problems in reason but, as evidenced by a blackboard overwhelmed by an Uncertainty Principle equation, comes up with nothing. Thus, he turns to the temple, where a trio of rabbis afford him no greater enlightenment, blathering on about a beautiful parking lot or recounting a parable about a goy who received a seemingly divine message from God inscribed on the inside of his teeth. As Larry navigates his insular Jewish suburban community, all he discovers is pitiless randomness – or, as suggested by a Jewish folklore prologue in which a woman in a shtetl kills a man (Fyvush Finkel) she believes to be a dybbuk (i.e. demon), is his misery an act of carefully orchestrated cultural payback from a God angry at past transgressions? The Coens’ latest isn’t drawn in one-to-one cause-effect lines, its obliqueness lending suspense and interpretative depth to the Job-like suffering of Larry, which might also simply be the byproduct of – and elucidate a lesson about – small personal moral transgressions snowballing into catastrophe. “Don’t you need somebody to love?” croons Jefferson Airplane in the radio earplugs of Larry’s pot-smoking son (Aaron Wolff), and the question lingers in the air like a taunt throughout A Serious Man, a portrait of cruel inevitability at once universal and rooted in a specific Jewish tradition, imbued with dry humor and genuine pathos, and defined by a nimbleness, wit and mystery that demands to be taken seriously.