June 1, 2019

Mezuzahs in Gilead? [No spoilers!]

Posted in entertainment, Jewish, TV tagged , , at 9:28 pm by degyes

In anticipation of the June 5th airing of the first Season 3 episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, I decided I’d warm up with an interesting, if not amusing, discovery from the wind-down of Season 2, which occurred in Episode 11. Actually, it would be presumptuous of me to claim to even know of any spoilers, as I’m hardly a THT* insider.

Yet I’m certainly an avid fan of the show.

First, a disclaimer. Prior knowledge of the show, and of Jewish ritual objects, is helpful, though not really essential. I’ll do my best to provide references to items not fully described.  

To those not familiar with the program from Hulu, The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the period following a radical fundamentalist takeover of the USA. A brutal regime is obsessed with solving a fertility crisis by sexually enslaving fertile women—known as handmaids—and ruthlessly subjugating most women to a status of the harshest servitude. Punishments for even the slightest infractions, in-deed or expressed thought, are punishable by horrible methods of execution, and grisly forms of torture.

For the full and original account, I could recommend reading the dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood back in the 1980’s. (A 1990 film starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway met with limited critical acclaim, and even less commercial success.)

Anyway, those who’ve been following the show will recall how June (Offred), in advanced pregnancy, is granted an opportunity by Commander Waterford, for a discreet visitation with her daughter Hannah. This clandestine meeting, to which she’s driven by her secret lover and Gileadean security “eye” and driver, Nick, takes place in a mansion-sized summer home out in the New England (actually rural Ontario) woods.

The visit goes awry when security goons from a rival commander confront Nick outside the house and, following a brief confrontation, abduct him. June ends up alone in the deserted house, mid-winter, with electricity shut off and apparently disconnected.

And then … her contractions start (no, not Braxton-Hix this time).

Her water having broken and with no medical services at hand, June is forced to keep her wits about her and think fast. Real fast. Oh, and at some point, she’s confronted by a wolf, who oddly—but wisely—backs off.  

At some point, June takes a frenzied walk around the perimeter of the house, looking for ways to perhaps gain access to a vintage muscle car parked in the garage. An attempt to use that vehicle to beat a quick escape from Gilead goes sour when June can’t manage to open the automatic garage door. So much for high tailing it to Canada.

As I was watching the show, I began noticing something a bit weird. As June is making her way both inside and outside the mansion, searching for means of sustenance, escape, and survival, I couldn’t help but take note of a mezuzah on one of the external doors.

Yes, that “door” as filmed looked more like a large window than a doorway. Though what’s affixed to it looks very much like a mezuzah. I placed the thought aside until June came back inside the house, walked through another doorway, which had, yes, what looked like another mezuzah.

Interesting! Did I expect the show to suddenly shift gears and take on a Jewish dimension? No. But it did seem like someone at MGM neglected to take down the mezuzahs prior to filming the episode.

And then, as June continues rummaging for means of getting through an impending cold, lonely, and risky childbirth, what did I see?

You guessed it, another mezuzah!

Well, that’s all the mezuzahs, folks!

If anyone has an alternative explanation for these mezuzah-like artifacts, I’d certainly be curious to hear them!

A full account of the episode (no mention of mezuzahs ☺) appeared on Billboard.

*THT = The Handmaid’s Tale

May 28, 2010

Remember, let go, move on… LOST 2004 – 2010

Posted in entertainment tagged , , , at 1:23 pm by degyes

What a profound parting message to present the characters and viewing audience. The fact that questions were left unanswered was good; that’s the nature of life. Apart from being a timely and wise message from the right source (dad, Christian Shephard) to the right recipient (son, Jack Shephard), it was also a way of telling the viewing audience and fan base: folks, it’s been a great ride, and you may even have taken some of this material home with you into your lives, but hey, it’s just a TV show … put it behind you and get on with the work of doing real life.

If you ever attempted watching LOST out of sequence, you may have come away with the (way-off) viewpoint that it’s Gilligan’s Island with sex, drugs, guns, violence, xenophobia, and a smattering of mysticism. That (i.e. the necessity of viewing in-serial) is probably the only ‘negative’ I could state about the show. On the contrary, I was positively amazed by how a TV show could tie together its very first and very last scenes – six seasons apart in viewing time — together so powerfully, after keeping such a compelling story line all the way through.

What was so fantastic about LOST was that instead of playing to the audience’s collective idiocy like TV shows have done so often for decades, it appealed to folks’ intelligence. On the one hand, you could have watched the show for its brilliantly woven sequential plot, intrigues, action, etc. But beyond that, if you were so inclined, you could have explored the show’s content on many different layers and levels … science(s), mathematics, religion, history, medicine, ‘new age’ spirituality, and so on. Folding a lot of the weird science aspects under the banner of the Dharma Initiative was a smart strategy on the part of the show’s creators, as it lent an air of legitimacy — even believability — to some of the program’s off-beat elements.

The relationships between the characters were multi-dimensional and complex. And while the program’s sci-fi elements required that you suspend disbelief with regard to occurrences in the plot, the realness, richness, consistency and steadiness of the characters compensated to the point where the show maintained credibility all the way through. I don’t think there was a point where I’d thought, ‘okay, they jumped the shark this time’.

The comment that ongoing involvement with the show evoked a sense of concern for the various characters was also on target. How many of us — let’s admit it now — found ourselves “interacting” with some of the characters on occasion during these past several years, or asking ourselves, for instance, “Gee, how would Sayid or Kate handle this?”

There have been a number of shows this past decade that started out strong but after a few seasons deteriorated into an implausible sexual escapade or a “lets test the outer limits” potty-mouth fest. That just didn’t happen with LOST. And the few times that it drifted slightly (remember Nikki and Paulo?) the producers, in response to fan response, took action and corrected course.

I take my hat off to JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, Jack Bender, and the multitude involved in creating, producing, directing, and managing the show for having made the courageous decision to end it while it was still running pretty hot. That gave respect to the age-old entertainer’s adage “keep the audience wanting.” Unlike so many TV series, LOST concluded while ABC — had it wished — could have kept it going for at least a couple of more seasons. While I’m sure there were compelling business reasons influencing their decision — like a huge cast and crew filming on location in Hawaii for extended periods — I thought that ending it when they did and in the manner they did gave honor to LOST’s cast and fan base alike.

Finally, while I’m not sure this was their intent, if LOST’s creators were attempting to embed a subtle message that the program was to serve as a metaphor for the world, its present condition, and the need to affect change, they did so brilliantly. After keeping us intimately engaged in the program for the better part of six years, the message, moral, and take-home lesson didn’t change from the pilot all the way through to the finale; that being Jack’s frequent refrain: we’re going to live together, or die alone.

January 19, 2009

Of Chickens and Changelings

Posted in entertainment tagged , , , , , , , , at 5:02 pm by degyes

Although there wasn’t necessarily anything distinctly remarkable about this film, apart from being well-acted with very good special effects that gave you a decent — if a bit artificial — 1920’s feel, I feel compelled to post a blog on my reactions to this movie. This film freaked me out, plain and simple, in a way that I haven’t been freaked by a film in several years. The last film to leave me with such a reaction (perhaps a stronger one) was NaPolA, which told the story of boys in an elite Nazi-era school.

Anyway, in The Changeling (2006), Angelina Jolie portrays Christine Collins, the mother of one of the boys abducted, and most likely murdered, by Gordon Northcott, who was convicted of confining and then brutally killing several boys in the L.A. area between 1928 and 1930. There were probably several more whom he killed for which he was not convicted due to the manner in which he succeeded in destroying much of the evidence. What was unique about Christine Collins, was that her son, Walter Collins, who was reported missing the night that he disappeared, was “returned” to her six months later, apparently as part of a publicity stunt by the badly corrupt and much publicly maligned LAPD. However, the boy returned to Mrs. Collins was in fact a double (whom she loses no time in identifying as a fake), named Arthur Hutchins. Thus the title, “Changeling.”

Anyway, leaving aside some of the historical inaccuracies (for instance, according to Wikipedia, Northcot’s mom, revealed at trial to be is grandmother, was involved in the killings; however, this character never appeared in the film), the movie succeeded cinematically. Read more about that on IMDB, or wherever you get your film reviews. I’ve learned — and I frequently remind myself — that we don’t go to Hollywood to be informed, let alone educated, but rather to be entertained. The brief glimpses at the manner and method of the Northcott killings was chilling, although what was particularly painful was the outright helplessness and innocence of his victims, little kids who where picked up and abducted by Northcott with the aid of his younger cousin, Sanford Clark, who was pressed into service as Northcott’s unwilling (and sexually abused) accomplice. Beyond that, the scenes at the psychiatric hospital (wash-down, syphilis test, electro-convulsive “therapy”) were upsetting enough. However, what was particularly disturbing — and what has left me mulling over this film for days afterward — was the use of administrative psychiatric confinement as a tool by which unscrupulous (and downright evil) authority figures were conveniently “putting away” those who might cause them embarrassment, undermine their already sullied public image, and hinder their careers. There’s that unfortunate characteristic of human nature where even in cases of clear victimization, we try to think “what could this person have done to avoid this unfortunate situation?” And yet the only thing Christine Collins could have done would have been to shut up and accept the Hutchnis boy as her son’s replacement, and avoid the LAPD characters (Captain Jones, and his medical accomplices).

What was also galling was the willing participation of medical authorities (pediatrician, psychiatrist, psych ward staff) who conspired to go along with the corrupt LAPD officials in trying to cow Collins into believing that Hutchins was really her son, confining her to the ward, and subjecting her to the horrors of crude and unnecessary tests and “treatments.”

Anyway, this has been more or less a therapeutic exercise for me at this point. If you’ve got the stomach for it (or if you’ll watch anything with Angelina Jolie), go see the film. If not, suffice it to read the Wikipedia article, or whatever other literature is available on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. I’ll be avoiding chicken for the next few days (maybe weeks), at least until the main brunt of the images is out of my head.

By the way, for all that I’ve described about the plot, I really haven’t given away any spoilers, since it’s obvious from the beginning that the “changeling” isn’t the Collins boy.

October 12, 2008

The Objective

Posted in entertainment tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 12:52 am by degyes

Just finished watching “The Objective,” in which a CIA Special Ops, under the pretense of searching for a missing nuke, takes a battle-hardened squad of GIs out on an excursion through hell, in a part of Afghanistan in which even the locals won’t tread. Well-acted, compelling story, and a worthwhile film. I’d recommended seeing it, though a cautionary word about some really gruesome and disturbing scenes. However, the film has left me wondering regarding the paranormal aspects, that is, assuming that these were actually based on anything concrete, or if they’re purely fictitious and imaginative. I don’t want to give away spoilers, or start hashing through the plot, so I’ll just request that if you’ve seen this film and can point me to or provide any info on what was behind the bizarre phenomena, in their historical, mystical (& other?) contexts, I’d appreciate.

April 3, 2008

Just finished watching The Counterfeiter (Die Fälscher)

Posted in entertainment tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:54 pm by degyes

This film, The Counterfeiters really brings up a lot of stuff. Holocaust, individual survival versus the collective good, loyalty to friends in times of extreme stress, etc.

[For historical context, see Operation Bernhard, a plan by Nazi Germany during WWII to destroy the British economy by flooding it with massive amounts of counterfeit pounds.]

Do most of us really have ethics in the truest sense of the word? That is, we pray that our principles won’t be put to the test in they way depicted in the film. Though the question relates to whether there are really things we’ll stand up for no matter what, or if all (most) of us could ultimately be bought. How far does one go in cooperating with scoundrels when doing so means possibly saving his own neck? At what point does doing so become impossible? Lots of questions.

About the film itself. Quality film. Rough stuff, most of it takes place in Sachsenhausen, lot’s of concentration camp scenes with inmate abuse, the works. A very interesting story with lots of well played drama. The language is German. Pretty good subtitles are available.

I’d hesitate to say “enjoy the film,” though if you decide to watch it and are moved by it in any way worth sharing … please do.