309: Readers Abuzz about Movies: “Striped Pajamas,” “Australia” and “Naughty or Nice”

nce again, you’ve sent us so many intriguing notes that we’re turning ReadTheSpirit over to you, our readers, today. But, we always can use more feedback! In fact, send us a note right now! We love to hear from readers!


I received a stream of notes this week on our Monday story about the controversy surrounding “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” — and other Holocaust films as well. You can jump back and read Monday’s story via the link here, but in a nutshell: The New York Times and at least a couple of other prominent movie critics harshly accused the makers of this new film of shamelessly exploiting viewers’ emotions in a cheap bid to earn Oscar-level attention. But, prominent critics are split in their views of this film and some appreciate it, as we explained in Monday’s story.
    Among our readers, the long-time film critic and author Ed McNulty, who we featured in a Conversation this year, wrote to say that he thinks the Times movie reviewer and then the Times’ A.O. Scott in a more recent “think piece” — got it wrong. Ed has specialized throughout his career in linking faith and film and Ed understands more of the complex history of Holocaust education and reflection, so I am including his viewpoint here. Ed says there is a place for such carefully produced films dealing with this tragic period of our history. He views “Striped Pajamas” favorably.

    But these are very difficult issues. The niece of a Holocaust survivor from the Washington D.C. area sent along the kind of nuanced reflection that many readers expressed this week. Here’s her Email: “The question about whether to make and see
films about the Shoah, the Holocaust, is a good one and I don’t know any
clear answers. On the one hand, you have people like Elie Weisel who
have said that the Shoah was so horrific that — other than first-hand
accounts — nothing more can be said because it is all demeaning and
anti-Semitic. On the other hand, we now have generations of people who
learn about life via film and TV.

If a movie can be made that does not
trivialize the Nazi era — than I personally don’t have a problem with
it. To me, ‘Life is Beautiful,’  was not really a Holocaust movie. It
was a movie set during that time and place. If someone wanted to learn
about the Holocaust I would not recommend ‘Life Is Beautiful’ as an
educational film. It was pure fiction. Should it have been made? I
don’t know. After I saw it, I wished that my uncle, who was a
survivor — he was in Mauthausen — could share his thoughts, but he died
before the film came out.

    A. Jascki, a retired teacher, said, “How can we spread the message that we must not forget, if we do not have tools to teach that reach this age?” She also wrote, “If we are going to teach kids the need for righteous acts … we need stories that get at these questions. … The book is good and I have used it with students. … I do plan to see the movie when it comes to a theater near us.

    Another reader pointed out that National Public Radio carried a story this week about the rise in Skin Head and Neo-Nazi groups in American high schools. I caught part of that report, which was focused on California but indicated that the problem is showing up elsewhere, too. This ReadTheSpirit reader, Hal, said: “It’s not an issue fading from the memory of people living now as the writer said” — refering to a comment in Scott’s analysis piece — “and we need to make sure we don’t turn a blind eye. Some of these misguided kids want to use the memories in dangerous ways.” He said, “I haven’t seen the movie, but plan to see the Daniel Craig movie,” which is called “Defiance” and tells the story of partisans who resisted the Nazis.

    Reader and ReadTheSpirit contributor Elaine Greenberg weighed in on these extremely sensitive issues, as well. Holocaust survivors and their families have a right to express strong negative reactions and even to avoid certain films, plays and books. “The first time my father in law, who lived through the Russian pogroms as a little boy, saw ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ he didn’t like it. He said, ‘That isn’t the way we lived. We didn’t dance and sing and laugh.’ The play was an insult to his memory of what actually happened.”
    In the case of the film, “Striped Pajamas,” Elaine wrote that she doesn’t care to see the film. But, she did see “Life Is Beautiful,” which A.O. Scott also severely criticized, and Elaine said, “It was a beautiful story about a relationship between father and son. Realistic? No.”
    Elaine wrote that the point to emphasize here is: We need powerful stories to keep the lessons of the Holocaust alive. “Your class of young people you mentioned in your story got it right: Whatever it takes to keep the story of the Holocaust in people’s minds — works.”

    Finally, a scholar and also an occasional contributor to our reflections at ReadTheSpirit, Dr. Joe Lewis, weighed in on this matter as well. This is such a complex issue and so important for all the reasons cited above that I’m going to close this item, today, with his full response.

     Dr. Lewis is a professor of English, an expert in Jewish traditions
and a modern pioneer in publishing books that help people who aren’t
fluent in Hebrew enjoy ancient Jewish traditions. Visit Dr. Lewis’ site www.Singlishps.net to learn more about that important part of his life’s work.
    Here’s what he wrote about “Striped Pajamas,” which he has seen:
    “I think the movie will be praised as a less-gory way to get young
people to understand the horrors of the Holocaust. From this point of
view, I’d accept that the movie was well acted and well constructed,
but I’d add that some aspects seemed unrealistic. Now, I wonder if one
or two unrealistic elements can call into question the truth of the
entire story, including the historical veracity of the accepted
accounts of the Holocaust. This is the problem sharply posed by
discredited personal stories like ‘Surviving with Wolves’
and Wilkomirski’s ‘Fragments.’ This movie raises a little bit of that
    “On the question of realism, I wonder: How could a starving little boy look so plump? How could he just go to the storehouse and get striped pajamas? How could a member of a work detail, entrusted with a wheelbarrow, disappear unnoticed?
    “From a different point of view, as an adult movie, there’s a more
subtle and interesting problem. The German family in the movie is
rather sympathetic, and I think we may be left wondering where — by
nature, or perhaps by art — we place our sympathies.

Thank you sincerely to all readers to responded this week concerning this very difficult issue! Today, I tried to include a sampling of what I heard from you all since Monday. Feel free to share further thoughts with us: Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.


Thanks to Ed McNulty, who I included in the discussion above, for pointing out that moviegoers who catch the epic adventure, “Australia,” this weekend might want to watch another film that is thematically related to this new drama: “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”
    “Australia,” which weighs in at nearly three hours, winds up touching upon a whole host of themes and echoing a huge range of classic Hollywood adventure stories. What Ed adds to the public conversation about the film this weekend is a special emphasis on the plight of the Aboriginal characters in “Australia.”
    The painful wounds resulting from Australia’s racist policies toward Aboriginal families reached a major landmark just this year. For more than a century, ending around 1970, the Australian government — cooperating with church agencies in many cases — forcibly removed Aboriginal children from their families and tried to “re-educate” and “civilize” them in harshly run boarding schools. This tragedy — often summed up as the “Stolen Children” (or “Stolen Generations”) — eventually resulted in a nationwide apology delivered on February 13 this year by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in an elaborate event that included thousands of Aboriginal families.
    Americans tend not to know this story. Both Ed McNulty and I are suggesting that we learn more about it, partly to understand how Australia has dealt with the reconciliation effort in recent years. There are documentary films in production on these healing programs that you’re likely to see popping up in 2009 in the U.S. The Australian experience is important to consider, not so much because we need to explore yet another human-rights abuse of the past — but because Australians are offering fascinating models in recent years for dealing with the aftermath of such horrors.
    BELOW YOU SHOULD SEE A VIDEO SCREEN. Ed McNulty is experimenting with YouTube movie reviews. The clip runs a little over 7 minutes and his analysis of “Rabbit-Proof Fence” comes in the second half of the video clip, after he has discussed “Australia.” (NOTE: Click here if you do not see a video screen below and you can jump directly to YouTube to watch Ed’s video review of the two movies.)

    Thank you, Ed!


From 9 to 11 p.m. on Thursday, December 4, the Hallmark Channel is airing “Naughty or Nice,” a premiere showing on Hallmark, but actually a 2004 Christmas production by Hallmark for CBS. If you’re like me and millions of other viewers, you didn’t catch it during its original broadcast — and I’m suggesting you mark your calendar to catch it this time around.
    This isn’t a startling new Charles Dickens- or O. Henry-class Christmas tale that you’ll want to watch every year in December — but “Naughty or Nice” does involve some life-changing holiday spirits like Dickens and some classic family misunderstandings like O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi.” Most importantly for our readers, the movie explores a theme that Dr. Wayne Baker raised this week with readers over in his www.OurValues.org Web site.
    In exploring the theme of “gratitude,” Dr. Baker pointed to evidence that a positive outlook and a thankful attitude toward people around us can, indeed, improve our lives. That’s basically what happens in this movie, with some twists, turns and dramatic misunderstandings along the way.
    The movie stars popular comedian George Lopez, who recently made headlines for plans to host a new late-night talk show sometime in 2009. He’s had his own series on TV and has popped up, well, all over the place on TV and even the voice of a dog in “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” In “Naughty or Nice,” Lopez plays a sports-radio shock jock in Chicago who is famous as the meanest broadcaster in the Windy City — until one unlikely listener convinces him to try switching from “naughty” to “nice.” Things begin to change all around Lopez, including some big challenges and surprising twists.
    You’ll find inspiring themes Dr. Baker discussed this week played out in a pleasant holiday film.

WITH that final recommendation, we say “Thanks” to all the readers we’ve quoted today!

   If you didn’t see your comment or suggestion show up today—keep
reading, because we’ll have more news, reviews, quizzes and inspiring
interviews next week.

AND PLEASE, as these readers have done—Tell Us What You Think.
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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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