Inglourious Basterds

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


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It’s been a banner year for Jews with guns. From Gaza to the Golden Globes, it’s suddenly de rigeur to talk about Jews and militarism in the same breath, as if the equation is a natural one. Reminder to the world: It’s not. A few months ago, at dinner with a centrist American-Jewish friend, he said: “Without Israel, in 40 years, we’ll all be back in death camps.”

I smiled wryly, and rolled my eyes, thinking he was kidding. He was kidding, right? Right?

He glared, deadly serious. “I mean it,” he said. “Without Israel, we’d all be in the sea.”


Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglourious Basterds, which arrived on the heels of the films Waltz With Bashir and Defiancemay offer the best answer. There’s something profoundly poignant about all three films and their underlying question: what happens when the world’s perpetual scapegoats are offered a chance to be on the other side of power, the other side of history? And can American Jews conceive of themselves as something more than victims?

These are valid questions, especially notable given that Waltz with Bashir was uneasily greeted by many American Jews. Why? Because they were uncomfortable seeing their Israeli brethren portrayed in such morally ambiguous light. This was in stark contrast to Israel, where, when Waltz with Bashir was screened over the summer–a good six months before recent events in Gaza–the film was wildly acclaimed.

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.

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

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