Exodus: Self-identity

[Screenshot]I’ve generally had a fairly limited sense of cultural identity. I was born and raised Jewish, but I’ve typically thought of my cultural heritage as basically mongrel American. Of late I’ve been thinking more about what Judaism means to me. Maybe that’s a sign of maturity. Either way, Exodus is deeply preoccupied with the meaning of Judaism in the 20th century, and particularly the formation of the state of Israel, whjich as a political playing-piece continues to have aftershock. One would like to think the best of everybody: history is by and large not a matter of heroes and villains so much as friction between cross-purposes. Certainly I get the feeling that much of the present strife in Israel and surrpounding areas is between people with equally legitimate claims among the moderates and equally inappropriate acts among the extremists. That said, Israel as an institution is pretty marvelous: a fairly progressive and modern state in a region still dominated by topheavy monarchies, naked dictatorships, and fundamentalist theocracies. But tis formation was an awfully unpleasant experience, and Exodus blames Arabs for much of the unpleasantness, which I found slightly distasteful. Granted, there’s the token sympathetic Arab, and the Irgun is presented in a mostly negative light, but in the end Irgun tactics are considered a necessary evil and the evil Arabs have strung up the best among them, so the slant is distinctly pro-Jewish. I’m Jewish and appreciate this, but I appreciate a balanced historical view more.

But these political aspects are borrowed directly from the novel, so I can’t fault the moviemakers too much for that. In terms of cinematic portrayal, I have very few complaints. Eva Marie Saint ennobles pretty much everything she’s in, and this film is no exception. Paul Newman reminds me an awful lot of his role in Cool Hand Luke for some reason but it works, since his roguish scoundreliness, tempered with a sense of righteousness, is perfect for the role of Ari. Jill Haworth was absolutely adorable, but every time she spoke her accent distracted the hell out of me. And as for setting… well, lots of authenticity, aided by on-site filming. There are a number of grand panoramas, and this one (like that other grand “British fuck things up in the Middle East” film, Lawrence of Arabia) really wants to be seen on a big screen.

Final, completely unfair note. Otto Preminger’s impressed me; Exodus and Laura were both quite engrossing. So it’s sad that in my mind his name is inextricably linked, thanks to a fairly obscure Zombies song, to his generally ill-regarded Bunny Lake is Missing.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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