The Chosen Movie Review by Jonathan Chisdes
The Chosen
L'Chaim - May 2001

For the past several years, I have been searching in vain to find a copy of one of my favorite movies, THE CHOSEN, in a local video store, all to no avail. So I was quite pleased, recently, when I discovered it was being shown on AMC. I eagerly set my VCR and finally have a copy of the film to enjoy.

Based on a novel by Chaim Potok, "The Chosen" is a coming-of-age film set in the 1940s. It tells the story of two unlikely friends and their relationships with their fathers. Although they live only a few blocks away from each other, they might as well live on different continents in different centuries.

Danny (Robby Benson), is the son of a charismatic, Hassidic rabbi (Rod Steiger, "The Pawnbroker") who follows the strict interpretation of Halachic law in his daily life, just as his tight-knit community has done for centuries. Although particularly brilliant, Danny has never been to a movie or a museum, but he secretly goes to the library every day, and reads secular books. Although chosen to follow in his father's footsteps, Danny is more moved by psychology.

Reuven (Barry Miller), is the son of a contemporary Talmudic scholar, professor, and an important man in the larger Jewish community (Maximillian Schell, "Miss Rose White"). He is comfortable with his modern approach to Judaism and the secular Zionism of the time. He is repulsed by the Hassidic community's narrow view and lifestyle.

The boys meet due to a baseball game in which Reuven's eye is injured by Danny. Over the next several years, they learn much from each other, as well as react to major events of the 1940s, including World War II, the Holocaust, and the founding of the state of Israel. It is the latter issue which most severely tests their friendship: Reuven's father becomes an outspoken proponent of a Jewish homeland while Danny's father is fanatical in his belief that only the Messiah could lead the Jews to Israel.

This film is unusual in that it focuses on the conflicts within the Jewish community, rather than the conflicts between Jews and non-Jews.

All four of the main actors, Steiger, Schell, Benson, and Miller, give very moving performances; and the direction by Jeremy Paul Kagen ensures that no one steals the show.

Film critic Kathryn Bernheimer ranks "The Chosen" as the greatest Jewish film of all time. Certainly, it has much to say about the Jewish experience in the 20th Century, and should not be missed.