Inglourious “Golem” – By Dotan Barzilay

April 2, 2012 at 7:48 am, by

The embarrassment after Inglourious Basterds premiered on May 20, 2009 at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival was huge. The Germans, who opened the gates of Berlin wide to welcome Tarantino’s crew, saw a movie that portrayed them as great intellectuals, but also as a bloodthirsty people without humanity. The Jewish people, who came to see a holocaust film, thought that the director was making a joke of the subject and were offended to the depths of their souls.

Tarantino, realizing that if he wants to make a funny film about such a dark period in time and still be politically correct he would have to do some basic homework, chose to focus on one theme in the film. As the film shows, he set out to make a movie about Jewish revenge.
It seems when it comes to the war against Nazism, Jews don’t have much to be proud of. But the film tells us a legend (using the framing of “Once upon a time…”).

The opening music and introduction of characters come from Westerns. Just like Westerns, which focus on a dark and violent period in dire need of a hero, Tarantino’s movie provides an updated statement on the period from Hollywood’s perspective. The decision to make a Western in Germany, focusing on the period of World War II and showing the Jews as victors in the end seems brave and curious. But Tarantino isn’t trying to rewrite history. Rather, he is trying to make a novel statement through a cultural perspective. He compares the personal narrative American/Jewish cinema made in Hollywood in the 1930’s to the strongly referential, effective, systematic and cold cinema provided by Goebbels. Film criticism also recalls The Golem, a silent film by Paul Wagner in 1920, which actually contains several anti-Semitic motifs, and Tarantino’s film actually provides answers to accusations made against the Jews over 90 years ago.

In order to tell a story of revenge, Tarantino sends Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and a bunch of bastards into metaphorical battle. If we look at Aldo’s neck, we can see a sure sign of a rope hanging, as if someone had connected the head to the body again. The director is hinting at another character that has been put back together again: the “lump” of the Maharal of Prague. The story, which originated around 1600, says that the Maharal created a Golem from clay to avenge the Jews in Prague, who were suffering severely from persecution and blood libels. According to the story, the Maharal created a man out of clay and inscribed the word Emet (truth) on his forehead, and the lump then came to life. Every Friday, the rabbi removed the letter Aleph from the forehead of the Golem, leaving him Met (dead) until Saturday night. One Sabbath, the rabbi forgot to do this and the monster came out and massacred the gentiles, not caring whether they had hurt the Jews or not. Tarantino has turned the meaning of the inscription on its head. In the movie, Brad Pitt inscribes a swastika on the heads of the Nazi villains, so they may always be known as criminals even if they change the rest of their appearance. Instead of building up the “Golem” and giving it life through a word, the director shows the engraving as a Mark of Cain: whoever carries this word is marked forever, stained in blood and destined to walk the Earth as dead.

The “Golem” story is the greatest Jewish story of revenge since the Book of Esther. It is natural that this story would be chosen as a basis for creating a Jewish Avenger.
Tarantino shows how the Germans tried to fight the Jews not only through war but also culturally. As Churchill says in the movie, they fought with the Jews at their own game: the cinema, where, over time, there is only one winner. It is not a coincidence that he chose to portray the ultimate revenge in a movie theater, where the Germans are massacred and burn to death, in face of Jewish judgment and ridicule. Film, as “putty” in the hand of a Jewish creator in Hollywood, won against the German cultural system.

After the initial premier, the judging committee was at a loss, eventually only awarding Christoph Waltz with the Best Actor Award. But any child could see that Tarantino had created a masterpiece, re-envisioning the villain antagonist in this movie. At least when they began public screenings of the film, success had been almost immediate.

Dotan Barzilay is an Israeli screenwriter currently residing in Australia with his wife, Noa. Before moving to the Gold Coast, Dotan traveled the world, visiting a variety of different countries throughout Europe, South America and Asia.

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1 Comments So Far

  1. Very interesting. I liked the fact that you were able to criticize the movie, present it in a historical context, and show its connection to the history of cinema, all in such a short blog. The association with the story of the Golem is strong – this story (and the movie) present a different side of Judaism.

    Tzafrir Barzilay, April 2, 2012 at 9:35 am #