A Serious Man (2009) is another Coen film brought up in the discussion of nihilism and the Coen’s. The central character, Larry, is consistently beaten down by life and all he does is worry about whether he is living his life the right way, worrying about his ability as a father, teacher, husband and brother. Larry becomes engulfed by his desire to live a ‘correct’ life, that he himself is the one who is creating so much misery in his life. The Coen’s are echoing Nietzsche’s idea that such pursuits of a perfect life are unnecessary, and that Larry needs to learn to accept the insignificance of his actions in the grander scheme of the universe, as ultimately, it is random and cruel. This idea that individuals are self-controlled beings within a random universe is showcased further by Larry getting a call from his doctor who has urgent news about an x-ray Larry underwent, only to cut away before a diagnosis is made, similarly Larry’s son, Danny, is left stuck outside his schools shelter as a large tornado approaches, cutting before the audience knows the outcome. This emphasises the randomness of the universe, as things just happen and there is no way of having any control over them, so Larry’s worrying over whether he was living his life correctly is ultimately irrelevant as it has no impact on the way his life will progress. At the same time, the cutaway is intentional to ask the audience what they think will happen to Larry when he finds out he has cancer? Will he be miserable like he has been in the film before his acceptance of life at his son’s Bar Mitzvah, or will he accept the universe’s randomness and take it in stride? This in a way mirrors the existentialist idea that truth transcends objectivity and subjectivity, that it is there for everyone, though each can only see it for oneself. Ultimately, the Coen’s leave it up to the audience to decide.
They encourage rolling with the punches. Greater meaning does not have to be applied to most situations, it is best to not take life too seriously at risk of wasting your time on the planet, as bad things can and will happen regardless of how your life is lived. Is it better to worry all your life away like Larry Gopnik, or to just abide like the Dude?