Hasidic Jews & Holy Rollers
With the upcoming opening of Jesse Eisenberg in the much anticipated film Holy Rollers (Reviews, Trailer) we have been getting quite a few questions about what life is like for a hasidic jew in NY. A few of the questions include:
Do hasidic jews vote?
Do hasidic jews drive?
Do hasidic jews pay taxes?
What is a lubavitch hasidic jew?
..and many more all focused on what this very small sect of a very small religion are interested in.
Naturally all we know is movies over here so we thought we would suggest a few:
The Chosen – Fantastic movie! This story about the love and friendship of two Jewish boys from very different backgrounds is a fascination tale. Both boys are proud to be Jews, both have a real love of learning, both love and honor their fathers, but the Hasidic culture of one of them puts them on opposite sides of the issue of creating a Jewish state in Palistine. The sixth generation Hasidic rabbi is a very wise and very kind man who is ultimately satisfied when his son does not choose the same path because he realizes that his son is a righteous and compassionate man who loves God and his fellow man.
Pi – Simply watching the first 30 seconds of the opening credits should be all one needs to realize that Aronofsky’s Pi is going to be a very unusual offering. Pi might be off-putting to those who assume that it’s nothing more than a film about mathematics and the lonely life of a scholar, but Pi has very little in common with Good Will Hunting and is more a blending of A Beautiful Mind with Cronenberg’s Spider. Pi is about madness, genius, and one man’s attempt to survive mental illness. Pi’s central character is Max, and the story is told from his point of view, so from the beginning, we are uncertain of any actual facts. What we do know (or do we?) is that Max believes that within the chaos of the stock market and the randomness of nature exists a formula of numeric order. The trick is locating the equation and then putting that discovery to work. Although Max is a loner, his work is known to people in the financial world, and they want what they believe he’s on the verge of discovering. Max is also Jewish, and after a conversation in a diner with a purveyor of the Bible Code, Max develops a belief that the Bible is ripe for his numeric applications as well. Of course, none of these people may even exist at all because Max also suffers from debilitating migraines and might also be schizophrenic. As mentioned, the entire dark story is told from Max’s perspective, so it’s all open to suspicion and interpretation, and that fact is what makes this film so compelling. The goal for Aronofsky was to capture the mind of Max and let us experience it for ourselves. Aronofsky does something similar in Requiem for a Dream. His unique close-up camera work, sound effects, and repetitive editing isn’t meant to scare us, but to put us inside the minds of his characters, and he does it better than any other filmmaker. Eerie, dark, and edgy, Pi is a haunting film that will make most anyone question his own sanity
A Price Above Rubies – Married to a strictly observant Jew, a young mother (Renee Zellweger) craves fewer rules and more passion. Along comes her jeweler brother-in-law, who sees her anguish and values her at “a price above rubies,” giving her a job and much more; with the door to freedom now open, she pursues a Puerto Rican jewelry designer. But there are no easy answers to the tough moral dilemmas she faces in writer-director Boaz Yakin’s character-driven drama.
If you have been in or near this life you may be uncomfortable watching this movie – probably why it was ill-received in the Hasidic community. The only discomfort for me came from the truth it told – my only objections to the film overall were primarily casting choices. I thought Zellweger and Margulies were very right as Sonia and the sister-in-law; the general atmosphere was accurate but other roles could have been better cast. The story it tells is rarely spoken of in the Orthodox community. These are the renegades so to speak, who leave or cannot be true to the lifestyle and culture of extreme religiosity. It also includes gay people who are closeted and still wish to be true to God.(Trembling Before G-d – (2000). The ostracism portrayed was absolutely right – it happens to daughters and wives, less often sons. Realized repression – especially of sexuality – is not uncommon and solutions other than “pray harder” are not considered acceptable for those who stray. These “outcasts” suffer greatly – usually living in silence or having double lives that backfire. I thought it told a sad story well and I think the script was well written. I was not offended as a Jew nor did I find it anti-Semitic – it crosses all fundamentalist groups and is a lesson in tolerance many could use to understand and accept human behavior that can exist anywhere, even one’s own shul or home.
A Stranger Among Us – “A Stranger Among Us” starring Melanie Griffith as an independent police officer tries to follow the same fish-out-of-water formula that was used in “Witness”, but doesn’t quite succeed. When a member of the Hasidic Jewish community in New York City goes missing, Officer Emily Eden (Griffith) is brought in to investigate. She discovers that he has been murdered and decides that the only way she can catch his killer is to become one of them…living among them. As she learns their customs and traditions, she also finds herself falling in love with Ariel (played by Eric Thal), a devoted disciple of the scriptures. The movie ultimately was about her relationship with Ariel and a look into the life of a Hasidic Jew, and even though the murder is what brought her there, it takes a backseat. The crime and its perpetrator are ultimately laughable, but that is because director Sidney Lumet chose to focus in on the telling of the unique relationship between Emily and Ariel instead. This was not one of Melanie Griffith’s best movies, but it is still entertaining and worth a watch.