Friday, August 28, 2009

Inglourious Revenge

Click here for Amichai Lau Levi's provocative discussion of how this week's parsha deals with death, in stark contrast to the new film "Inglourious Basterds." There is much else to chew over from that film as well - as he puts it:

It’s beautifully shot, and very compelling. It’s not just the violence and the manipulation that makes me shudder at how much I’ve enjoyed the slaughter of the bad guys. I can’t put my finger on it (partially because perhaps this film is such a specific dialogue with other films and other film genres) but I sense that he is saying something important about what we choose to remember, and how we choose to deal with our rage, and how we make – or don’t make – sense of the past. There is a big conversation to be had here about revenge (and about Jewish fantasies of revenge) but I don’t want to discuss that. I just want to think about how he made me think about death.

Click here for Rabbi Irwin Kula's take, from the Huffington Post. He writes:

There may be six million stories in the Holocaust but Inglorious Basterds tells the one we have been afraid to tell about ourselves: the story of what we would really like to do to those Nazis.

Actually, it's the second. The first was "Defiance," also released this year. Is this the beginning of a pattern of revenge flicks? have we run out of contemporary villains that we need to bring back the "Krauts" to beat up? Ever since "Munich" was released a few years ago, Arab terrorists seem to have become passe as venge-objects. It's even hard to hate Iranians these days.

The Torah gives mixed messages. In this week's portion we are told to remember (Zachor) what Amalek did to us and then blot out their names. But Leviticus 19:18 instructs us not to take revenge or bear a grudge. If the Torah seems confused, that's because we are too. Revenge is a messy proposition, because it rarely leaves the avenger unsullied. The avenger then becomes the next person's object of scorn. The Torah offers ways out of this mess - like Cities of Refuge. Maybe the message here is that Amalek is the exception to the rule, whereas in other cases, the rage should be tempered. And even here, Amalek was not to be avenged with emotive fervor, but ritualistically and dispassionately (though no less ruthlessly).

Jews don't do vengeance well. But we certainly are experts at ruminating about it.

Full disclosure: I haven't seen "Basterds" yet. I get the creeps at bloody movies.... I nearly fainted watching "Twilight." But it's on my list and it sounds like one of the films I'll need to see for professional purposes, right up there with "The Passion."

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