6: Film Excerpt, "A Serious Man," directed by the Coen Brothers, 2009.
A Serious Man is a dark comedy that follows a Minnesota Jewish man, Larry Gopnik, as his personal and professional life disintegrates. This scene (which has been edited here to remove an interwoven but unrelated scene) takes place early in the film and highlights Larry’s son Danny’s disaffected relationship to his Hebrew school, and his rebellious, skeptical approach to adult authority figures and to Jewish religion writ large.
Suggested Activities: Invite your students to describe the scene in their own words. Who are the participants? What are they doing? What are they supposed to be learning? Then, ask your students to discuss the following questions: What overall impression does this segment give about the experience of Jewish education? How would you view the clip differently if you did or did not understand the Hebrew? If you did or did not recognize the Hebrew letters around the blackboard? Who do you sympathize with as a viewer – the students or the teacher? Ask your students to imagine that Danny (the boy with the headphones) is sent to the principal’s office, and they are the principal. What advice would they give him? How would they respond to his behavior?
Source: A Serious Man, directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. (2009; Focus Features).