Posted by Abe Fried-Tanzer
Last night, Showtime’s The Big C aired its final episode. After three seasons of half-hour installments, this comedy returned for a shortened final season consisting of four hour-long episodes. Subtitled The Big C: Hereafter, this final round took a more dramatic approach as protagonist Cathy (Laura Linney) entered the more serious stages of her cancer. As expected, the finale was extremely emotional, and provided a fitting sendoff to Cathy and her television family.
About ten minutes into the episode, Cathy sits in hospice and notices a priest, a rabbi, and an imam walk in to the room. Acknowledging that this could well be the start to a punch line, Cathy seizes on the opportunity to talk to the three clergy members to ask them about death. The rabbi is overdressed for the occasion, understandably wearing a yarmulke to signify that she is in fact a rabbi but unnecessarily also wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) in case viewers were unclear. This excess wardrobe is, however, made up for by the quality of what she says to Cathy. Like another Showtime series that was paired with The Big C on several occasions, Weeds, this show has surprisingly deep Jewish thoughts.
The rabbi tells Cathy that Judaism focuses on “Olam Hazeh,” the here and now, and then quotes a famous midrash that describes souls in the afterlife sitting down to a huge buffet. Cathy’s adopted daughter Andrea chimes in at this point that she likes Jewish food, and the priest heartily agrees. The imam states that illness does not exist just to test the sick, but also to show the compassion and generosity of others. This notion is similar to the idea that the Misheberach, a prayer for those in need of healing, and the Mourner’s Kaddish, recited by those who have lost loved ones after their death, are both just as much about providing consolation to the person saying the blessing as the one for whom it is said. In addition to prayers from the priest and the imam, Cathy receives her own Misheberach before leaving hospice.
Cathy has always been a character who has greeted her illness in an unusual way, refusing to be bogged down by the certainty that she will succumb to the disease and instead choosing to embrace life. Throughout the show’s four seasons, she has prepared for the eventuality of her death, buying her son gifts for a number of birthdays in the future, and, more recently, planning the details of her own funeral. Her openness to the concept of religion and its healing power, however minor, is both surprising and affirming. Perhaps best looked at as a necessary step on the road to accepting her condition, it serves as a warm – and wonderfully inclusive – look at what religion can mean to those who are not religious in a time of need.
That doesn’t mean that Cathy takes her encounter with Judaism to heart, of course. When she returns to her home after her insurance no longer covers hospice, Cathy learns from her new nurse that lard is a crucial ingredient of any good pie crust. She confirms that the decidedly unkosher substance is a “dirty word,” yet still promises to bring Cathy a pie. Though I won’t spoil the details of the episode, I will confirm that Cathy has the opportunity to enjoy a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie, lard and all, before the end of the episode. Some people like Jewish food, and others aren’t that particular. For Cathy, she got to experience a meaningful moment of Judaism and eat her cake (pie) too.
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May 17, 2013 | 4:49 am
Posted by Abe Fried-Tanzer
Opening this weekend at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 is a very hot-button new documentary called State 194, which follows the recent history of Palestine. Many will approach this film with trepidation, since it is difficult to find any piece of journalism, be it in print or on film, which does not choose sides, demonizing either Israel or the Palestinian Authority for its lack of participation in the peace process. State 194 centers on the trajectory of the construction of the state of Palestine as a political entity and comes close to a balanced perspective in its imperfect portrayal of a complicated situation.
State 194 starts in 1947 and runs up until the present day. Salam Fayyad, who served as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority until last month, is the film’s protagonist. He stresses the importance of building institutions that can sustain a state before building the state itself, copying the successful Israeli model employed decades earlier. Fayyad travels throughout his land overseeing construction projects and championing the right of the Palestinians to have their own state. Palestinian bloggers appear, advocating for peaceful resistance, and the Parents Circle, a group of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost children in the conflict, is seen frequently educating those on both sides about the vitality of a two-state solution.
Difficult subjects like settlement building and terrorist activity are acknowledged, if not fully covered. Israelis are interviewed and showcased, explaining their perspectives on what they see as obstacles to peace. Former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter, last seen arguing vigilantly for the Palestinian cause in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers, points out that terrorism does exist in Gaza. Tzipi Livni, a past candidate for the Israeli Prime Minister post, meets with residents of settlements to voice her feelings about continued building as problematic. The scathing and emotional critique of settlements, including a boycott on settler goods, dominates the film’s second half, while the reverberations of the 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza, portrayed so powerfully in the documentary Unsettled, which showed at film festivals in 2007, is touched on only lightly.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters the picture in the film’s third act, making a tour emphasizing that the peace process must involve the Israeli people because it cannot be achieved otherwise. The film almost achieves true neutrality when it includes a clip from the AIPAC Policy Conference in 2011, though its effectiveness is minimal since it merely serves to underscore Netanyahu’s commitment to a defense of current borders. J Street, on the other hand, gets a good deal of screen time, as executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami voices his opinions on what the Palestinians need. The film closes with the words “The time to act is now,” implying that this issue is far from resolved.
There are moments when it seems like State 194 truly does see the whole picture, but its trajectory ultimately implies that, much like the Palestinian bid for statehood to the United Nations, this is a process that need not be resolved through negotiation but through political action. Director Dan Setton’s previous films have examined Jewish participation in terror and concentration camps, among other things, and while a liberal-minded investigative Israeli journalist is a positive notion, it would be reassuring to see a project that is both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, equally applauding both sides for their efforts and sternly instructing them both on what each needs to bring to the table next.