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Written Word > Articles & Commentaries > November 2009 > The Coen Brothers and the Voice from the Whirlwind
Current rating: 4.7 (20 ratings)
Ok, thanks a lot for your post. It was of good help to me, hope to hear from you soon again.
2/1/2010 7:37:18 AM
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I just saw the film again on DVD yesterday, and in the special features of the DVD the Coen brothers alluded to the key of the mystery-Indeed it was in the scene with the old Rabbi Marshak, but I don't believe the refrain, "you better find somebody to love" was mentioned in that scene. Rather, the ominous and perhaps even pernicious "when the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies" is quoted in isolation, without the love refrain. Perhaps they are pointing to the love refrain, indeed that is the implicit verse even if Rabbi Marshak does not explicitly recite it, and the Coen brothers respect the intelligence of the audience in not making everything explicit. But, it seems that Marshak just says the ominous lyrics about truth being lies and joy dying and then tells the boy Danny to "be a good boy" and indeed that was the quote that the special features goes to right after the Coen brothers mention that that scene in Marshak's office lair holds the key to the mystery, "be a good boy".
What is my take?
Well, we see the main protagonist, Larry Gopnik, in his office looking at an expensive lawyer bill at the end of the movie. Gopnik goes on to do something immoral because of this bill, which calls back to what he had said earlier in the movie in that very same office chair about actions having consequences in his office. And immediately, Gopnik gets a call after his immoral deed with even more bad news about his health. This scene is interpolated with the whirlwind scene that Fr. Barron speaks about with Grace Slick's powerful voice singing the refrain "you better find somebody to love." This love refrain I recall was in this last scene (but, again, not in the Marshak scene).
So either the key of the mystery is the love refrain, "you better find somebody to love" or Marshak's last words in the film, "be a good boy." The former key with the love refrain makes sense for all the reasons Fr. Barron mentions above, the latter key makes sense for the relationship "be a good boy" has with Larry Gopnik's bad boy lapse into immorality with its immediate consequences. This latter key also points to the ominous and pernicious first lyrics of the Jefferson Airplane song, "when the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies." Obviously Larry Gopnik has had his whole world turned upside down, everything he thought was "truth" turned out to be lies. The joy in him, if he really had any, died; and Gopnik certainly fell into depression. So what is Gopnik left with? Be a good boy? Can you blame Larry Gopnik for lapsing after all the trials he endured? The reason I call these first lyrics pernicious (about truth being lies and joy dying), and maybe I'm guilty of isegesis here (reading into the text), is because the first lyrics seem to say that this world view is very dark. Why should Larry Gopnik be a good boy? Especially if he has to live in this dark world where God, as Larry himself discovers, "makes you feel the questions and never gives you answers." Larry gives a good faith effort to find God's will. No response. And squeezed to the breaking point, Larry lapses into immorality, he does something not befitting a serious man. Here Gopnik differs from the blameless Job significantly. But it appears the Coen brothers are trying to present Gopnik as blameless as Job, and indeed even an Thomistic moralist could call Gopnik invincibly blameless in his immoral deed - did he not try to do everything he could to follow God's will?
We're left with a tragedy, where the truth is found to be lies, not only for Gopnik, but for us too. How we don't see God, the dark night, is exposed, and the truth of God is said to be lies, killing our joy.
Now this flies in the face of the film's first scene with the dybuk and the later tooth scene with God's direct message (these two scenes are interestingly contrasted too, the first scene shows the wife's reaction to evil being faithful, immediate, and strong, whereas the dentist's reaction to God in the tooth scene is first skeptical, then has unrelated searchings, and ultimately forgets it ever happened, basically the dentist misses the message entirely whereas the wife gets it right away.) Both of these scenes seem to point to the existence of the supernatural.
Comedically, and probably tellingly, the Coen brothers invoke the name of Jesus Christ in two or three scenes, mostly just in the frustrated anger sense of "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ!" Maybe the Coen brothers are saying, yeah we know about Jesus, and that's not gonna change anything here. Again, I'm reading way into this, but it is art!
2/20/2010 11:21:20 PM
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Gabriel David A. Medina
Interesting article father. Thanks also for being my friend in facebook. I agree that when things don't work for us anymore, we better find somebody to love and I think that we should love ourselves first telling ourselves that everything would be fine and we don't have to worry. Having faith and hope in the Lord is loving the Lord. We don't know what the future has for us but we know that God is already there as well as here in the present with us. I know that if we walk blindly into the night, we shall not fall down because God would send His angels to assist us. Also, we can take just one step at a time and eventually we'll arrive in our destination. I also learned from a friend in twitter that the journey is what brings us happiness not the destination. It's holding on to the Lord during crisis and believing in ourselves that brings peace in our worrying minds and joy in our troubled hearts. This is what I know and I would do whenever I'm faced with obstacles in life. It is another opportunity to Love God and myself more. I thank God and you father through this blog for giving me an opportunity to share. God bless! :-)
3/1/2010 10:08:46 PM
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