The Holocaust: Director’s Cut

Film Analysis

By Anthony Weiss

Published June 03, 2009, issue of June 12, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

After nearly 50 years of movies about suffering and Nazi brutality, the Jews are finally, apparently, winning the Holocaust. With “Inglourious Basterds,” the Jews of the cinematic Holocaust have at last thrust aside moral or philosophical victories for a good old-fashioned ass-kicking.

This development has been some time in coming. Quentin Tarantino’s latest phantasmagoria comes on the heels of “Defiance,” the action-packed tale of a band of Jewish resistance fighters, and on a pair of takes on the Israeli cult of machismo — “Munich” (critical-dramatic) and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” (comical-wistful).

The shift was captured nicely by Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) in the 2007 comedy “Knocked Up”:

Every movie with Jews, we’re the ones getting killed. “Munich” flips it on its ear — we’re capping motherf—–s. Any of us get laid tonight, it’s because of Eric Bana and “Munich.”

Of course, “Munich” was intended to be a meditation on the moral corrosiveness of violence and an ideology of victimhood, but never mind that. This is a far cry from “Annie Hall,” where Woody Allen’s character drags his goyish girlfriend to see the four-and-a-half hour Holocaust documentary “The Sorrow and the Pity.”

There were perfectly good reasons for all the movies about Jewish pain, suffering and death. For starters, by and large, that is what actually happened, particularly during the Holocaust. But the Holocaust and its depiction in the movies also helped cement the notion, for Jews and non-Jews alike, that Jews are existentially vulnerable, whether by pogroms, Nazis or intermarriage.

But being a 21st-century Jew in America, particularly a young, assimilated one, doesn’t really have much to do with vulnerability. The shiksa tail that Alexander Portnoy fretted over even as he chased it presents no moral dilemma to the confreres of “Knocked Up.”

And in many ways, that’s healthy. It means less useless guilt and paranoia, and fewer overprotective Jewish mothers. It means that Jews can spend less time worrying and more time living their lives. It means that Jews feel normal.

But there are dangers to the new Jewish hero fantasy. For starters, the natural corollary to an empowered Jew is a helpless, or hapless, Nazi, as in the innocent illiterate of “The Reader.” That is, of course, another historical lie, and a more insidious one than the escapist fantasy of an oppressed people dreaming of beating up the oppressors.

More subtly, and perhaps more seriously, the reinvention of the Jew as action hero risks sacrificing a fundamental part of what it means to be Jewish. To be an action hero is to be immortal. To be Jewish is to know mortality all too well. Traditionally, the great Jewish adversary has been not man but God. Through the ages, and particularly after the Holocaust, Jewish thinkers have returned to the troubling question, what kind of God would create a universe so capricious and so cruel? That willingness to challenge God is heroism of a different and much deeper sort. The reward lies not in getting the girl, but in the wisdom that comes from knowing that in life, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.

Anthony Weiss is a staff writer at the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.