The Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man” is a brilliant illustration of the midcentury collision of Jewish ethnicity and the American dream. The Coens’ nightmarish suburban world is rich with dynamic characters and stunning imagery. In the absurd but deeply personal landscape of the film, melding religious tradition with materialist culture leads to questions about the blurring of good and evil, life and death — the meaning of existence. The cultural shake-up of the 1960s, which has intrigued me in my own work, provides an ironic background for the Coen brothers’ characters, who deny responsibility and passively ask “Why me?” (The only hint of the intensity of the 1960s counterculture in the Coens’ blank suburbia is Jefferson Airplane’s insistent “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love?” snuck in through a teenager’s iPod precursor.) “A Serious Man,” with phenomenal Coen direction, is an outstanding American gothic anthem for the ’60s.
Diane Paulus helmed the current Broadway revival of “Hair.” She is also artistic director at American Repertory Theater.