Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mamzer at the Movies : The Secrets

I recently watched an Israeli movie called, "The Secrets". It's about a young Chareidi (Ultra, ultra Orthodox) woman, Naomi, who is a brilliant Torah student with limited options in her community. Her mother has just passed away, and she is being pushed into a marriage with a man she can barely tolerate, let alone love.

Naomi takes time out at a seminary in Tzfat (Safed), where she moves into a room with two adoring roommates and knows the answer to every question in class. Everything goes well until Michel enters the picture. Michal smokes, makes rude comments, and is very inconsiderate. We aren't told the details of Michal's past, but it's clear that she is only at the seminary because of parental pressure.

Naomi and Michal are paired together through the school's Tzedakah (charity) program when they must bring food to a very ill, outcast lady who has spent time in prison for murder. This woman is the catalyst for a journey of religion, magic and sexuality that will transform them all.

I was struck by how beautiful the soundtrack was; a lot of it was acapella spiritualist choir music. I would love to get a soundtrack copy of it, if such a soundtrack exists. Watching the seminary girls dance and sing down passageways in Tzfat made me wish I had taken time to visit the city when I myself was on seminary a few years ago.

What happens in the film is a role reversal of sorts. The "good girl" Naomi who always has to be the strong, perfect one ends up leaving her fiance and being shunned by her family. She moves to another city and studies Torah on her own. The "bad girl" Michal ends up chickening out on her love for Naomi in order to have a "normal" life. Even their seminary roomate, Sigi, a baalat teshuvah (mistress of repentance) who starts out the movie smoking cigarettes, apologizing for not being frum (Orthodox) enough, and exhorting her dorm mates to "love your brother", ends up spiraling into fanaticism. The look in Sigi's eyes becomes realistically fanatical and extremely scary towards the end of the film.

That's the thing about life. We can never say for sure which way people will go. And I'm not talking about sexuality. I used to think my identity was fixed and well known. The truth is, I don't know myself that well. In many situations, I think I'll react one way and then I react differently.

I grew up constructing an identity for myself in protective layers. An identity that said, "This is what I believe. This is what religion I am. These are my political views. These are the clothes, musicians, colors, authors and groups I like." I painted myself as a counter-culturalist, an outsider. I felt I needed to protect myself from a dangerous world, and I was afraid that I would be empty if I didn't adopt the more extreme views I knew about.

In my tweens and teens, I cultivated my identity as a Neo-Pagan. I was all about the spirit world, the unseen, the truth that was behind all off the bend-over-for-the-sky-daddy, dress-boring-and-don't-ask-questions bullshit I felt "the system" was trying to get me to buy into.

And then, in my early twenties, I befriended a woman who told me she really did communicate with spirits. Not only that, she told me she could predict the future and that her son could actually see the spirits she communicated with. Then I had a dilemma on my hands. Was I going to stand by my beliefs, being a counter-culturalist, anti-establishment, anti-normal, Neo-Pagan feminist? Or was I going to think, "hey, this woman sounds nuts"?

In the end, I felt that the information she was getting never seemed to lead anywhere. Just at the moment that a physical manifestation of her spirit-communicated information was about to materialize, she'd realize she'd gotten the message wrong. I was never sure if she was delusional, and I sensed that her son was playing along for validation and security. That was an instance where I thought I was really bad-ass, and then when I was confronted with someone who mirrored what I said I believed in, I realized I couldn't believe it.

And that's why I love movies like Avi Nesher's "The Secrets". They ask important questions. Who are we? Are we victims? Are we business professionals? Vegetarians? Are we devout servants of God? Mystics? Saints? Sinners? I've realized over and over in my life that I don't always know who I am. I don't always know how I'm going to react when hypothetical situations become real ones. I don't always know how others will react either.

As I work on becoming more, well, me, I feel like I'm melting. So often, my feelings and beliefs, the ones I've tried to supress, like being Christian, having a deity that comes to me in a masculine form, and enjoying a good Spice Girls CD, come to the front of my consciousness. They've been there a long time, I just used to push them down.

Betrayal is the fear I have. That and emptiness. Fear I'll betray myself or friends, and fear I'll be betrayed. I can only work on being more honest, and being more me, remember that I live in the real world and need to cook food and go to work, and hope that's enough to give me the strength to act with dignity when the next challenge comes.

No comments:

Post a Comment