A Serious Man was written, directed, edited and produced by Ethan and Joel Coen. It was filmed from September to November, 2008 in various towns in Minnesota, and was released in the U.S. in October, 2009. The book The Suburban World: The Norling Photos by Twin Cities journalist Brad Zellar, featuring period photographs of 1950s and 1960s Bloomington, Minnesota, was an inspiration for the look of the film. Long-time collaborators Roger Deakins, cinematography; Carter Burwell, music; Nancy Haigh, set decoration; and Mary Zophres, costume design returned to work with the Coens on this film. Jess Gonchor, the production designer, and Deborah Jensen, the art director, had each worked with the Coens on films made in the first decade of the 21st century. The actors tend to be unfamiliar, after several movies the brothers had made with the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and other stars. It made $9 million in initial release in the U.S., against an estimated budget of $7 million. It was nominated for the Oscar for best picture and the Coens were nominated for a best writing, original screenplay Oscar.
Joel Coen said, in an interview, “The film was done as a very affectionate look back, from our point of view, at that time and place” which was, parenthetically, the Jewish community in the suburbs of the Twin Cities in the 1960s. In the same interview, his brother Ethan noted “There's something strange - not in a bad way - about going back to where you grew up or recreating where you grew up. It's strange and stimulating.”
Christopher Orr wrote in the New Republic in 2009, “The ethnic landscape they portray is so uniform that the few goyim in the film are presented as dangerous exotics, forever playing ball and hunting deer. There's a strong whiff of Woody Allen to this cultural contrast (think (of) the split-screen family dinners in Annie Hall), though filtered through the darker lens of the Coens' vision. . . The film is often quite funny, especially when it casts a knowing eye on the rituals of middle-class Jewish suburbanhood at the very moment when they were about to have the generational rug pulled out from under them. (It is no coincidence that the movie is set at the time when Joel and Ethan were themselves coming of age.) And there are moments of genuine tenderness as well. . . The universe (the Coens) are now navigating is one of godlessness and capricious misfortune, in which no one is watching over us unless by CIA spy satellite. Despite its flaws, A Serious Man is interesting for what it adds to that vision, and for what it reveals, or pretends to reveal, of the milieu that shaped the Coens themselves.” I hope you enjoy watching A Serious Man with me tonight.