29
Dec
09

My favorite movie of 2009…

I’ve been reading the usual year-end lists of top films and thought I’d use the blog to talk about my favorite movie of ’09, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, since I found the choice of soundtrack from the film to be nearly as enthralling as the writing and acting.

It features songs by the Jefferson Airplane, all cuts from their 1967 masterpiece Surrealistic Pillow, an album by a pack of acid-headed San Fransisco hippies that nonetheless produced two nationwide hit singles, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”. What’s more, the Airplane were fronted by a brunette bombshell who spoke her mind (one Grace Slick), and the rest of the band members had distinctive personalities and names that were fun to memorize and rattle off (Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, YOUR-ma COW-ko-nen).

Pillow is precisely the kind of album that would have found its way into the earbuds of a kid in late-60’s suburban Minneapolis, as depicted in Danny Gopnik, son of protagonist Larry. He sloggs his way through Hebrew school with the Airplane in one ear, and a crusty dinosaur of an instructor at the chalkboard in the other. The Coens use “Somebody to Love” here in a clever wink to the audience. There isn’t meant to be any higher meaning to the words “You better find somebody to love!” vis-a-vis Danny’s spiritual maturation: It’s just an awesome sounding song. The way that downbeat hits and drives when you’re thirteen and trying to merge millenia-old tradition with an exploding counterculture… the Airplane represent pure rebellion. The Coens capture that feeling perfectly here, and I interpret it as being the most autobiographical aspect of the film.

Larry Gopnik, meanwhile, encounters two of Marty Balin’s lilting ballads from Pillow, “Comin’ Back to Me” and “Today“, during two episodes involving his fetching, potsmoking neighbor. In a movie that seems primarily concerned with leveling misfortune after misfortune onto Larry’s sadsack existence, these two scenes offer a welcome respite for Larry and the viewer both. The cozy, acoustic ramble of the songs might represent the more adult-contemporary aspect of the hippie movement, though Larry’s palpable discomfort during the hilarious scene in which he’s invited in for a drink and smoke with the temptress (“Do you take advantage of the new freedoms?”) also illustrates just how forbidding the late 60’s must have seamed to a square like Larry.

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