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April 3, 2017 6:52 am

New York Times Critic Complains Holocaust Movie Isn’t Gory Enough

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Jessica Chastain in The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017). Photo: IMDb.

As is often the case, the most telling New York Times coverage of the Jews comes not in the news columns or on the editorial page, but in the movie reviews.

The latest example comes in a film review in which a Times critic complains that a Holocaust movie doesn’t contain enough graphic violence or terrifying depictions of “Jewish suffering.”

The Times reviewer, Stephen Holden, complains that the movie, “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” is too “sanitized.” It “avoids graphic depictions of Nazi barbarism,” he writes, disappointedly. It “plays like a medium-gloss rerun of other more gripping depictions of Nazi evil and Jewish suffering.”

The review further complains that the Jewish fugitives “don’t look much the worse for wear.”

Perhaps it’s reasonable of the Times to complain that a movie about the Holocaust is too much of a whitewash. But in making the complaint, the Times risks setting up an ideal that goes too far in the other direction.

Should moviemakers really be encouraged by a Times critic to provide — for non-documentary, Hollywood films — “graphic depictions of Nazi barbarism,” and “gripping depictions of…Jewish suffering”? It seems weird, to me. As a moviegoer, I’m not particularly interested in partaking; I’d prefer a romantic comedy instead, thank you. There’s enough genuine Jewish suffering in the world already, and enough that has been captured in news footage, without dressing up actors and actresses to provide horror-film-style re-enactments.

What, one wonders, does Mr. Holden want to see? A gas chamber scene? Mengele’s experiments? Extras machine-gunned into mass graves? It’s all readily available already in history books and Holocaust museums.

If such movies were being made, one might wonder about the people who find it entertaining to go see them, or the studio executives who might approve them on the basis of the eccentric theory that Americans might pay $12 apiece to go out with a date on a Saturday night and sit in a theater watching “graphic depictions of Nazi barbarism.” Certainly the Times movie critic practically salivating for more graphic cinematic depictions of Jewish suffering made me cringe.

How would Times editors feel if a Jewish organization sat around wishing for a movie with more “graphic” and “gripping” depictions of barbarism directed at, say, journalists? “The movie about foreign correspondents was terrific but I wish there had been more close-ups depicting when they get captured and beheaded by ISIS.”

As for “Jewish suffering,” the Holocaust was bad enough without adding the further indignity of a Times movie critic demanding graphic and gripping cinematic replays.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. 

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