So in "Somebody To Love," Grace Slick clearly, indelibly, sings, "When the truth is found to be lies / and all the joy within you dies." But the Third Rabbi in the film quotes the lines this way: "When the truth is found to be lies / and all the hope within you dies."
I have complete faith in the Coen Brothers' attention to musical detail. O Brother inspired it. I'm not willing to believe this was a mistake, anymore than I'm willing to overlook the fact that the first rabbi's calendar says 1967 (supposedly - I didn't notice the detail, but others did), but the Columbia Record Club guy is talking about Abraxas, which came out in 1970. I don't know what that last detail means - is Dutton calling from the future? is the film actually set in 1970 and the first rabbi just forgot to update his calendar? is this somewhat sheltered Jewish enclave symbolically living in the past, at a moment when the present is going to come crashing in?
I don't have an answer to the Abraxas conundrum, and I'm not even sure where pondering it could lead us. But the hope/joy one seems just bursting with meaning. Larry Gopnik is in crisis, sure enough: a crisis of what? Faith? Hope? Charity, even? I know that's a New Testament formulation, and thus inappropriate, but it's not out of step with the Second Rabbi's advice to help other people. ...I don't know if he is in a crisis of hope, actually: the thing about Larry, like Job, is that he keeps expecting that life will do him right. Hope is the one thing he does have. He's not giving up. Although that x-ray tornado might just do the trick...
But joy? He doesn't seem to have much of that - and when the first rabbi tells him to appreciate the simple things in life (i.e., to embrace joy?), his example - a parking lot - is so joyless by its very nature that we, along with Larry, can only go, huh?
Larry's hope is in danger of dying. But his joy? Was it ever there to begin with? Or is it something that was never given place in his life, but is seeping in from without, in the "new freedoms" of sex and drugs and rock and roll? Maybe Abraxas is indeed signalling a time lag:
maybe the '60s, like "modernity," didn't arrive at the same time everywhere. Maybe the 1967 that San Francisco hipsters experienced, that Summer of Love, didn't arrive elsewhere until 1970...
Maybe Larry will never discover joy. But his son might - maybe it'll come seeping up from the deepest recesses of his mind like the camera and Grace's voice in that opening (post-dybbuk parable) sequence. Maybe - if he survives the tornado.