Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An Endnote to Joseph Cedar's Footnote

Footnote is a splendid film. The critical acclaim it's received is well-deserved. The acting is superb. And the narrative tension is thoroughly compelling. Its provocative argument surely inspires every viewer to revisit his/her own relationship with his/her parent or child.

Weeks after seeing the film, one scene still remains clear in my mind: An elite group of renowned academics and dignitaries, responsible for the bestowal of Israel's most coveted prize, holds a committee meeting in a room so cramped that everyone seated must rise to allow enough room for the door to open. The portrait is at once uproariously funny and at the same time offers a poignant metaphor - perhaps for the place of academia in the Israeli imagination.
I quibble only with the most basic assumption of the plotline. As an American and as a grandchild of immigrants to this country, I grew up believing deeply in an ethos wherein a father always hoped that his child would surpass him. The notion of "creating for our children opportunities that we never had" seemed ubiquitous. It was always the implicit, if not explicit, dream of the post-war generation that its heirs would live less trying, more comfortable and more prosperous lives. The idea that a father could be competitive with his son, let alone jealous of him, seems quite foreign.

I don't believe either that this ethos is a strictly American one. It strikes me that it is a very Jewish one as well. As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written, Judaism is the only civilization whose golden age is in the future. The Haggadah's end note, like Yom Kippur's, is "Next year in Jerusalem." This message is not consigned to our liturgy; I believe it holds a place in the heart and mind of every Jewish parent.
One doesn't need to be an expert on Freud to recognize that tensions between children and parents abound. But for me, Cedar's character goes too far. I can accept that the film portrays an extreme case of paternal jealousy. But I would prefer to believe that this is the rare exception rather than a representative model of the rule. If, as a people, we are not intent on making better lives for our children, then it is we who have betrayed our past.

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