Inglourious Basterds

New films like Inglourious Basterds, Waltz With Bashir and Defiance change the face of Jewish film.

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Israelis, it seemed, were fully open to a film that portrayed an unromanticized version of war, and willing--if not relieved--to see themselves as both victims and aggressors. As my friend Udi, an IDF veteran, said, "I think Israelis walk around with blinders on, that we can only live here by the sword and that justifies everything. And Waltz with Bashir showed the crack in those blinders--that there's a price to be paid for us using force, and we're compromising ourselves and our integrity and our world."

He shook his head, and averted his eyes. That same day, Israeli troops were moving deeper into Gaza.

That these blinders are partly a result of narratives like Defiance is a fact. For decades after its founding, Israeli society recast the Holocaust as a story about Jewish resistance. The partisans were treated with great reverence, and even today, many Israeli students visiting the Warsaw Ghetto read aloud from the memoirs of leaders of the ghetto uprising, rather than the records of those who survived the camps. The medium is the message: Jews with guns, fighting back, are our forebearers, and their lives are instructive. We need to be able to save ourselves, because no one else will. Heroism is the trope, and blood is the price.

But for American Jews the narrative in Defiance is, by and large, unfamiliar. Jews in American Holocaust films are quintessential victims; which may be why, at the screening I went to in Brooklyn, there was a palpable frisson of excitement in the air each time a Jew shot a Nazi--an excitement that I'd never seen before at a "Holocaust movie."

And in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino, though flippant in his treatment of Nazis and the American-Jews who seek to scalp them, seems to know this: the real currency of both Defiance and Inglourious Basterds is the indulging of revenge fantasies, the fairy tale thrill when victim turns aggressor.

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Jordie Gerson

Jordie Gerson is a newly ordained rabbi and a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.

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