A Serious Man

A Serious Man2009

Stars: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

A Serious Man is a 2009 black comedy-drama film written, produced, edited and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in 1967, the film stars Michael Stuhlbarg as a Minnesota Jewish man whose life crumbles both professionally and personally, leading hi… more »

Rabbi Nachtner:
You know Lee Sussman.

Larry Gopnik:
Doctor Sussman? I think I - yeah.

Rabbi Nachtner:
Did he ever tell you about the goy's teeth?

Larry Gopnik:
No... I- What goy?

Rabbi Nachtner:
So... Lee is at work one day; you know he has the orthodontic practice there at Great Bear. He's making a plaster mold - it's for corrective bridge work - in the mouth of one of his patients, Russell Kraus. The mold dries and Lee is examining it one day before fabricating an appliance. He notices something unusual. There appears to be something engraved on the inside of the patient's lower incisors. He vav shin yud ayin nun yud. "Hwshy 'ny". "Help me, save me". This in a goy's mouth, Larry. He calls the goy back on the pretense of needing additional measurements for the appliance. "How are you? Noticed any other problems with your teeth?" No. There it is. "Hwshy 'ny". "Help me". Son of a gun. Sussman goes home. Can Sussman eat? Sussman can't eat. Can Sussman sleep? Sussman can't sleep. Sussman looks at the molds of his other patients, goy and Jew alike, seeking other messages. He finds none. He looks in his own mouth. Nothing. He looks in his wife's mouth. Nothing. But Sussman is an educated man. Not the world's greatest sage, maybe, no Rabbi Marshak, but he knows a thing or two from the Zohar and the Caballah. He knows that every Hebrew letter has its numeric equivalent. 8-4-5-4-4-7-3. Seven digits... a phone number, maybe? "Hello? Do you know a goy named Kraus, Russell Kraus?" Who? "Where have I called? The Red Owl in Bloomington. Thanks so much." He goes. It's a Red Owl. Groceries; what have you. Sussman goes home. What does it mean? He has to find out if he is ever to sleep again. He goes to see... the Rabbi Nachtner. He comes in, he sits right where you're sitting right now. "What does it mean, Rabbi? Is it a sign from Hashem, 'Help me'? I, Sussman, should be doing something to help this goy? Doing what? The teeth don't say. Or maybe I'm supposed to help people generally, lead a more righteous life? Is the answer in Caballah? In Torah? Or is there even a question? Tell me, Rabbi, what can such a sign mean?"

[pause as the Rabbi drinks his tea]

Larry Gopnik:
So what did you tell him?

Rabbi Nachtner:
Sussman?

Larry Gopnik:
Yes!

Rabbi Nachtner:
Is it... relevant?

Larry Gopnik:
Well, isn't that why you're telling me?

Rabbi Nachtner:
Okay. Nachtner says, look. The teeth, we don't know. A sign from Hashem? Don't know. Helping others... couldn't hurt.

Larry Gopnik:
No! No, but... who put it there? Was it for him, Sussman, or for whoever found it, or for just, for, for...

Rabbi Nachtner:
We can't know everything.

Larry Gopnik:
It sounds like you don't know anything! Why even tell me the story?

Rabbi Nachtner:
[chuckling] First I should tell you, then I shouldn't.

Larry Gopnik:
What happened to Sussman?

Rabbi Nachtner:
What would happen? Not much. He went back to work. For a while he checked every patient's teeth for new messages. He didn't find any. In time, he found he'd stopped checking. He returned to life. These questions that are bothering you, Larry - maybe they're like a toothache. We feel them for a while, then they go away.

Larry Gopnik:
I don't want it to just go away! I want an answer!

Rabbi Nachtner:
Sure! We all want the answer! But Hashem doesn't owe us the answer, Larry. Hashem doesn't owe us anything. The obligation runs the other way.

Larry Gopnik:
Why does he make us feel the questions if he's not gonna give us any answers?

Rabbi Nachtner:
He hasn't told me.

[Larry puts his face in his hands in despair]

Larry Gopnik:
And... what happened to the goy?

Rabbi Nachtner:
The goy? Who cares?

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