Toy Story 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
December 25 is a very special day for me. It is my birthday, and from my early
childhood I have fond memories of my sister Martha taking me to the Paramount
Theater or Radio City Music Hall in New York City, where we would watch a new
film along with a stage show that included such luminaries as Nat King Cole,
Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Ray. It was there that I became enamored of the
movies. I still remember with what awe I watched the curtains part at Radio City
Music Hall when it unveiled its first wide screen; and there I saw Shane, a
landmark western that made me an Alan Ladd fan for years.
As I got older,
I became an observant Jew, knowledgeable about Jewish law and tradition, and my
attendance at movies became suspect, especially as the nature of movies changed
over the decades. Still, my infatuation with film remained and I
continued to watch them, but my tastes gradually changed. I began to look for
meaning in film. I wanted them to be not only enjoyable, but I wanted to leave
the theater enriched with some kind of message.
In recent years in
religious circles, there has been a reaction against contemporary film as
destructive of family values and devoid of meaning. I take a different
view. I assume that that there are movies worth watching, that have something
valuable to say about the human condition, and that we can take advantage of the
good that films offer if we become discriminating consumers. I am convinced that
films can be a tool for self-discovery, as we navigate the many challenges of
life together with movie protagonists.
In my blog and in my newspaper
columns in Atlanta and Toronto, I aim to marry ancient tradition with the modern
cineplex. My review of Toy Story 3
illustrates my method.
Many years ago,
I hired what I thought was a star teacher. He gave an excellent model lesson,
had good references, and even played the guitar. Yet I soon discovered a serious
flaw. He never wanted to deal with parents. It seems that once, long ago, he was
abused verbally and emotionally by an insensitive school parent. The
repercussions of that event still lingered and colored his approach to all
parents. He was still angry with them, for they were the enemy.
Ultimately, I had to let him go because our school welcomed parent engagement
and did not see parents as adversaries.
The experience reminded me that
sometimes we can let a bad experience define how we behave in the future. In
truth, it is a great tragedy if we cannot move beyond a hurtful experience, if
we permit anger and ill will towards others to dominate our lives.Toy
, an animated film that is a parable of human relationships, provides one
classic example of this in the character of Lotso, the chief toy in a day care
center full of dysfunctional and malevolent toys that lord over the new recruits
who come to Sunnyside Day Care. Lotso has allowed a bad experience in his youth
to forever taint his relationships with anyone he meets. The backstory reveals
that Lotso also was once a treasured toy, but his owner abandoned him, or so
Lotso thought. In truth, she lost him and did not deliberately abandon him.
Lotso, however, lived on the false myth of his abandonment and made that bad
experience the seminal one in his life. Anger was what drove him and defined
Into Lotso’s monstrous world enter a group of naïve toys, who fear
obsolescence when their owner, now grown up, departs for college. They fear
abandonment, but take heart in the possibility of finding a warm and friendly
environment at a local day care center. From a distance it looks
attractive. But a closer look reveals that the ownerless day care toys
are not only used but abused. The kids at the day care do not feel any emotional
connection to the toys. The children play with the toys and then toss them away.
In contrast, the new recruits, accustomed to an owner who had invested in a
relationship with them, want in some way to replicate that
situation. They want to feel valued, emotionally connected, and
respected. The toys are truly us.
Their first impression of Lotso is
positive. He is soft-spoken and huggable on the outside, but they do not realize
he is an angry monster on the inside. His past anger has determined his
Jewish tradition tells us that anger is one of the worst traits
to possess. In fact, the Talmud compares it to idol worship. When one is angry,
it is a manifestation of a lack of belief in God’s providential supervision of
the universe. After all, how can one be angry if God is in charge of things? It
is a Jewish mode of sensibility to presume that from the aspect of eternity,
everything ultimately will make sense because God is orchestrating events in a
hidden way which our finite minds cannot comprehend at the moment.
whose life is defined by anger, reminds us not to allow negative memories of the
past to determine our present or future. It is a bad thing when anger lives
rent-free in our brains and influences our present relationships.The
writer, a former synagogue rabbi and day school principal, now resides in Beit
Shemesh and can be reached at email@example.com. To view his weekly blog and
share your perspectives on his film reviews, see www.koshermovies.com.