Thursday, July 01, 2010

"The Devil's Arithmetic" (Showtime, 1999): a girl recalls a past life in the Holocaust

In 1999, Showtime presented a film “The Devil’s Arithmetic”, based on the novel by Jane Yolen, directed by Donna Deitch. A suburban Westchester County girl Hannah Stern (Kristen Dunst) is not particularly interested in her family’s religious heritage and not too interesting in the Seder, but suddenly finds herself transported into 1941 Warsaw (the same environment as “A Film Unfinished” (here, June 22) as Chaya and transported with her family to the concentration camps. After an inner story leading to the trading of lives and leading up to the gas chambers, she wakes up at the Seder, as if it had been a dream, or out-of-body experience.

The inner story quite effectively shows the group mindset of 1940s Europe, which had help make Nazi expansion and the Holocaust possible. Hannah, seeing herself as a reincarnation of Chaya, has to deal with the idea that living for the survival of the family can be more important than her own purposes. The film, however, also talks about how the Jewish people as a whole became more important in world history after the collective adversities that Jehoval bestowed on them.

Of course, I’m not sure that the dreamscape plot device is all that convincing; a science fiction writer might try to mix this up with UFO abduction. But the surprisingly gentle film has an introduction by Dustin Hoffman. The DVD is full screen, as if for television only.

See the June 20 review on the TV blog of “God on Trial” also.

Here’s a YouTube book report on the novel

Wikipedia attribution link for WWII picture of Warsaw.

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