We just saw “A Serious Man” in English at one of our local theaters, in a sparsely attended screening. We tend to be more than a year behind in our viewing of films. Now I have read seven or eight reviews of the movie. I don’t want to say too much about it until I have watched it a second time.
After the screening, our friend E. wrote to us to say that, because of my prompting, she had been rereading “Le petit prince” by Saint-Exupéry and come across a passage in which the prince talks about being a serious man. Then, in another coincidence, last night I was reading a volume of essays by Hannah Arendt that I have and came across the following passage, in an essay about French existentialism that was published in “The Nation” in 1946:
“”The French Existentialists, though they differ widely among themselves, are united on two main lines of rebellion: first, the rigorous repudiation of what they call l’esprit du sérieux; and, second, the angry refusal to accept the world as it is as the natural, predestined milieu of man. »
« L’esprit du sérieux » consists essentially in the social roles imposed upon us by society, by bourgeois society more specifically. I wonder if the brothers Coen were aware of l’esprit du sérieux as a trope in French existentialism when they chose the title and some of the thematic material for this movie. It seems likely to me that they were. This is something not mentioned in any of the reviews I have seen.