Just saw the movie. I think you are on to something in the OP....but really the dysfunction of which you speak, while having peculiarities for the Jews due to their particular set of beliefs, is really no different than the idea that prots, mohams and Buddhists, etc. will have a black hole right in the middle where it counts. This is self evident for a Catholic.
On the other hand, I do not agree that the Rabbis did not provide wisdom. The old rabbi used Grace slicks lyrics
"'When the truth is found to be lies and all the joy within you dies...' What then? Be a good boy"
That's right...when there is no anchor that you see, when all falls apart....choose rightly
As for the Rabbi Marshak, the story of the dentist is wise, here he has all these questions, questions no one can answer due to a miracle of inscribed teeth. It is a story pertinent to the main character, who wonders what God is saying to him with all that is happening...is it a message....and what should he do about it....
The answer is, live you life and be a good boy!....he gets that message partly, he even voices it while at his neighbors and at lest one other place....something about helping neighbors etc...
When he finally falls....gives into the bribe...bang
To tell you the truth, I do not see much different in the presentation of these characters that is so overly different than even what Catholics go through...see Voxpop's latest thread...flailing...looking for answers...looking everyplace but where he should...thinks he should go on retreat....but for what....what answer will they provide him....nothing that has not been suggested on the forum...certainly he will have a good reflection time there...but will he use it...will he see the burden he places on himself that is not only uncalled for but false....and we have lots of people that have go through similar bouts....some lose faith...some don't
Same applies to Jews or anyone else.
Now as for the movie its self....
The North Dakota...LOL....LOL
"There's another Jew, son"....LOL again...jeez...the Cohen bros....LOL
I agree that the same bit about dysfunction could be said for any non-Catholic society, as they will all have that hole in their lives that can only be filled by knowing God as He truly is. But what I like so much about this movie is that it specifically depicts Jewish-American (and even Midwestern Jewish-American) dysfunctionality. That's what makes it a great movie. It gets the little subtle details down. It makes it much easier to identify with the main character; because you sense that he is real.
I agree that the rabbis provide SOME sort of wisdom, but it is very limited, and they aren't really answers, and they aren't exceptional. I thought the old rabbi quoting Grace Slick was a disappointing moment, and I think the Cohen brothers built it up to be that way. The boy's father tries all movie to see the old rabbi, but is denied. When the boy finally meets him, you're expecting to hear some ancient gems of wisdom, culled from millenia of Jewish experience and wisdom, and what does the rabbi do? He quotes a modern pop song, and the lyrics themselves are nihilistic (truth is lies, joy dies). I found the "be a good boy" advice to be generic and a little condescending, requiring hardly any mental effort.
The difference between the way the main character struggles and the way a Catholic would go through the same struggles is that a Catholic can see meaning in his suffering. He knows it can be redemptive and be offered to God as a sign of love, while the Jewish approach of receiving with simplicity everything that happens is ultimately unfulfilling. It still leaves one in a confused and directionless state. Likewise, I think if a faithful Catholic were faced with something miraculous like the dentist episode, he would seek an answer from God in prayer, and have confidence that God would make His will known to him. He wouldn't simply resign himself to believing the miracle was basically meaningless.
Some reviewers have likened this movie to a modern day telling of the book of Job, but I don't think the analogy really fits. Job was a righteous man. The main character in this movie isn't particularly evil, but he's not a saint, either. He lives a pretty lukewarm existence, following a very conventional morality. He refuses the bribe from the Korean student (most people know that it's wrong to accept bribes), but he also ogles his married, sunbathing neighbor (most people are very sympathetic when it comes to sins of the flesh). He is not deeply religious, but only conventionally so, resorting to religion when he is faced with difficult times.
I don't think we can make a direct connection between his giving into temptation at the end of the movie and the evils that ensue from there. The movie begins with his medical examination. The results are only revealed at the end. This means that for the duration of the movie, his body has been carrying whatever illness his doctor has discovered, even before giving in to the bribe. So regardless of his actions, his fate seems already decided. That seems to be an overarching theme in the movie. No matter what you do, God has already decided your fate. His reasoning is inaccessible to us, and we just have to accept it with simplicity. But unlike with our Catholic spirituality, there is no understanding that one can work with God's grace to change one's fate, and that in doing so, one can draw good out of evil.