"If Philip Roth and Franz Kafka sat down to write an adaptation of the Book of Job," said Alonso Duralde in MSNBC.com, "the result might be something like A Serious Man." Joel and Ethan Coen's "thought-provoking" and fascinating new film, set in 1967 and centering on a Midwestern professor who faces an existential dilemma when his wife decides to leave him, "examines faith and religion, crime and punishment, and the very notion that a supreme being might actually be paying close enough attention to lay down some Old Testament smiting when we step out of line" (watch the trailer for A Serious Man).
A Serious Man begins "mysteriously, with what feels like a Yiddish folk tale," said David Denby in The New Yorker, and "as a piece of moviemaking craft," this is a "fascinating" film. But "it's hell to sit through": The Coen brothers' "humor is distant, dry, and shriveling, and they make the people in A Serious Man so drably unappealing that you begin to wonder what kind of disgust the brothers are working off."
"Is A Serious Man a work of Jewish self-loathing?" said Ella Taylor in The Village Voice. It's "hard to tell," because it seems like "just about every character the Coens create is meant to affirm their own superiority." But they take it to a whole new level this time: The "visual impact" of so many "warty, unappetizing Jews" carries "A Serious Man into the realm of the truly vicious."