The Wandering Review: Jews of the summer blockbusters
By Laurie Baron
SAN DIEGO– There’s been a dearth of Jewish films this summer. I had been hoping to review something that’s currently in release at movie theatres, but I’ve had no luck. I saw The Avengers on the chance that Ben Grimm, the Jewish alter ego of the Thing, would make a cameo appearance, but alas, Marvels’ pantheon of superheroes lacked any Jewish characters, even though Captain America affirms there is only one God when the villain Loki demands that humankind worship him. On the bright side, Scarlett Johansson has a Jewish mother. The old physical stereotypes of what Jewish men and women look like are taking a serious beating in this motion picture.
I convinced myself to see Men in Black 3 on the pretext that it was about a trio of Heredim. Indeed, when J. goes searching for K, he knocks on a door whose jamb has a mezuzah affixed to it, but it turns out to be the wrong apartment. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are definitely not Jewish, but Josh Brolin’s stepmother is Barbra Streisand. I’m not sure where the Torah stands on the space time continuum.
If Prometheus’s characterization of the Almighty had been more moral, it might qualify as a science-fiction retelling of Genesis. Some internet conspiracy theorists have charged that the android David in Prometheus is Jewish and out to control the universe. Unfortunately for them, other than his name and his command of ancient languages, there’s not much to substantiate this interpretation. David models himself after Lawrence of Arabia, not David Ben-Gurion of Palestine. For those who have forgotten their Greek mythology. Prometheus was a Titan who created human beings out of clay and gave human beings fire. Zeus punished him by chaining him to a rock where an eagle would feast on his liver which then would regenerate only to have the eagle return on a daily basis. However, I don’t believe the film is trying to explain how chopped liver was invented or why Jews have liver problems. The one Jewish moment in the film consists of a crewmember describing a pile of alien corpses he has stumbled upon as a “Holocaust picture.” Even in the year 2089, people haven’t forgotten!
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted also sounded like it might be about the Holocaust. I wondered if it could be an animated animal allegory about Hitler’s plan to exile Europe’s “unwanted” Jews to Madagascar in 1940. Featuring a giraffe named Melman and voices provided by prominent Jewish actors like Sacha Baron Cohen, David Schwimmer, and Ben Stiller, there was an outside possibility that this was the case. Instead, the movie delivers a Diaspora message that animals who hail from Africa will pretend they belong to a circus in Europe as a stratagem to get to New York.
The Amazing Spider-Man sports an impressive Jewish lineage. Like The Avengers it originally was written and illustrated by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the pen name of Stanley Lieber. Its leading man Andrew Garfield is Jewish. In a key scene Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben is fatally shot when he confronts a thief who has robbed a delicatessen. I imagined Ben’s last words were, “They’ve got a corned beef on rye that’s to die for.”
So far my search for Jewish meaning in this summer’s blockbusters has been in vain. Perhaps the second half of the summer will yield something equivalent to Independence Day. Remember when Judd Hirsch playing Julius Levinson recites the Sh’ma to bless Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith’s mission to destroy the alien’s mother ship? Someone in the prayer circle mentions that he’s not Jewish, Julius replies, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
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