Sunday, April 17, 2011

Movie review: Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open (2009) is a remarkable gay-themed movie from Israel that Tobi and saw recently.

It's one of the few movies made on the subject of mixed-orientation marriage, and it's the only one that I can think of that takes place in a conservative religious setting. The film very well done and in fact is so well done that at times it's painful to watch.

The world of conservative Judaism is foreign to outsiders, but I think the movie's setting will resonate with Mormon viewers. Group identity is so strong in this movie that a viewer can really understand why the characters see no way out. Nothing can replace their membership in the tribe. It's not so much that there are disincentives toward leaving; it's that the only life that can be imagined is within their community of believers. Religion colors every aspect of life from the moment these characters get out of bed in the morning.

I don't want to give spoilers, so I'll just summarize the plot as the story of a married Hasidic man and the younger man with whom he falls in love. The character of the wife is played with heartbreaking reality. To its credit, the movie never portrays the wife as a shrew. She is definitely a bystander but in a way that is human, believable and very poignant.

This action of the film is slightly more understandable if you already have some significant cultural exposure to Judaism. There are events in the movie that might seem poorly motivated without familiarity with practices like the mikvah (purifying bath) and the Hasidic concept of tzaddik (a righteous man of special devotion).

In terms of style, the film is clear-eyed and unsentimental. It has compassion for communities of faith and for those who don't fit the mold. It understands the emotional violence of ritual shunning and the compelling nature of the universal human desire to live among one's people.

There's a lot here that Mormons will recognize, a lot that gay Mormons will recognize, and a whole lot that Mormons in a mixed-orientation marriage will recognize.

(FYI, this movie is available in streaming format from Netflix.)


B.G. Christensen said...

FoxyJ and I watched this a few months ago and we both enjoyed it. I agree with your assessment of the film--it's very well done and tackles a difficult subject masterfully. I was actually a little disappointed, though, by my lack of emotional reaction to it. I expected to feel this great connection with the main character, given the similarities between our stories, but for some reason I didn't. I thought at the time that the disconnect might be because of the cultural distance or because of the more intellectual engagement of reading subtitles as opposed to hearing and understanding characters' words directly, but the fact that you seem to have felt that connection leads me to believe now that it's just me. I'd be curious to hear if other people either currently or formerly in MOMs have similar emotional reactions.

Also, I really liked the portrayal of the female lead. Definitely a strong point of the movie.

Mister Curie said...

I also enjoyed the movie, I saw it last year at the Philadelphia LGBT film festival, QFest. I think your assessment of the film is spot on.

In regard to Mr. Fob's lack of emotinoal response, I also had less of an emotional response than I expected to, but I think that is probably in part due to the lack of sentimentality in the film making as well as the general disconnect from Hasidic Jewish culture. While there was a lot of parallels with Mormonism, I don't think it quite had the same emotional impact as if it were dealing with Mormonism.

The movie at QFest that really gave me a strong emotional response and deals with mixed-orientation marrriage is "Undertow" which I highly recommend, but I don't think it has made it to Netflix yet.

B.G. Christensen said...

Thanks for responding to my question, Mister Currie! Glad to know I'm not the only one who felt more of a disconnect than I expected to. I'll keep an eye out for Undertow.

B.G. Christensen said...

Sorry, make that Curie, not Currie. :)

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Interesting... I've added it to our Netflix queue.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Messrs. Fob and Curie,

I'm glad you liked this movie. I agree with you both that it's very "foreign" and may not be fully accessible.