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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Musing Pictures: Serenity

Although I never had a chance to pay the short-lived TV show, "Firefly" any attention, I decided last night to give the film that is based on it a try.

"Serenity" struck me as being very refreshingly "retro" -- this, of course, is an observation that fans of the show have already made a long time ago. But my interest in "Serenity" really had nothing to do with the show -- I wanted to see if it would hold up on its own, As A Film.

Part of the reason I wanted to see if it would hold as a film on its own was that from the beginning, it ran the risk that many "Star Trek" films have faced: It risked looking and feeling like nothing more than simply a longer, bigger-budget TV show episode on a really big screen. There were times when I felt that it did just that -- in the way that the camera moved through the CGI space, shifting and zipping this way and that... it was a way of moving that is native to the small screen, but which, to my surprise, fit the bigger screen rather well.

the type of acting that the lead characters displayed was also very small-screen-ish, almost painfully begging to be televised, at times (and in fact, a significant portion of the film involves the characters desperately trying to make an interstellar TV broadcast, despite the interferance of an evil "alliance"... does it sound like the filmmaker had a beef with the networks or what? They did cancel his show, after all...) But the acting, probably because it is smaller, meeker, less grandiose, actually makes the characters all the more believable -- rather than overplaying their characters, the actors somehow managed to underplay them, and in that way, to bring them to life in ways that "movie stars" generally have a hard time doing.

So, good ol' Joss Whedon made a movie about broadcasting a secret message (cancelled TV show) across space (the US/world) despite the greatest efforts of the Alliance (the Network) to kill (cancel) the broadcasters (Joss and his buddies).

I think that's kind of fun, actually. I have a lot of respect for that. It's Joss saying "you all suck!" in a really constructive, dream-achieving sort of way. Good for him.

The one shadow cast on the whole thing, for me, began as nothing more than an unflattering portrayal of the film's only Jewish character -- "Mr. Universe".

So, he's high on himself, is proud of having married a femme-bot, and is a techno-wizard. Fine. I know plenty of Jews with unflattering characteristics. It makes me a little queasy to see it outright on the big screen, because things tend to get inflated and warped when they are presented in that way, but... it got much, much worse very quickly.

I'll be spoiling just a bit of the plot, but if you've read the Christian Bible, you'll know exactly where this is going:

So, the crew of the "Serenity" fly towards Mr. Universe's planet, where they hope to broadcast their secret message to the world. Mr. Universe says "come on in! the coast is clear" (I'm paraphrasing). Everything looks hunky-dory, until...

cut to inside Mr. Universe's personal techno-palace. He has lots and lots of Alliance troops standing around him, so it's clear he was forced to betray his friends. Fine. I'll buy that. I was going along with the plot just fine, feeling like "ah, that was a great little twist", when Mr. Universe turns to The Operative who leads the Alliance troops and says something like "Ok, now give me my thirty pieces of silver and-" at which point he is unceremoniously killed.

Thirty pieces of silver? Another Jew playing Judas? If his motives were self-protection, which is what I thought at first (what with so many guards standing around him), I'd have understood that, but by dropping this one little line, the entire scenario turns in to yet another version of the antisemitic "Jews vs Savior" (captain Mal, in this case) motif. Sure, the original narrative has Judas betraying Jesus for some cold, hard cash, but it's not originally a Jew vs. Christian story -- it's Jew vs. Jew. It's when Judas is taken out of the historical context of a predominantly Jewish society that he becomes an antisemite's tool. What does an antisemite care if a Jew betrays another Jew? The antisemite cares a lot if a Jew betrays someone else -- a hero, a savior, a Christ-figure (but not a Jewish one, like Jesus, of course).

That moment in the film made my blood run very cold. I hope it was an oversight made by people who have never really learned to be sensitive about this issue. If it was not, I am surprised that a greater outcry has not already begun.

-AzS

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