Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On November 4, LPAC screened the final presentation of the Israel/Palestine film series that has been showing every Wednesday for many weeks now. Eyes Wide Open (Haim Tabakman, 2009) differs from the rest of the films shown thus far because it focused on societal dynamics within a Jewish community in Jerusalem.
Eyes Wide Open explored the romantic relationship between two Orthodox Jewish men and how the relationship clashed with morals taught by Judaism.
The film gave us quiet and subtle drama, but the overall theme of one’s duty to faith vs. exploration of sexuality was delivered powerfully to the audience.
Aaron (Zohar Strauss) began like any other man in his community: he worked at his own butcher shop, he had a family, and he went to church. It is once Ezri (Ran Danker), an exile of his former community because of his sexuality, arrives that Aaron experiences a sexual awakening.
At the start of their relationship, Aaron suppresses not only his own desires but even tells Ezri to restrain himself. He views his sexuality as a challenge from God, a temptation luring him away from his faith. Only through the rejection of his sexuality could he rise to the occasion and be a “true” follower of God.
But both men inevitably give into their desires. Their love for each other leads to an intense scene where they have sex in Aaron’s butcher shop. For a moment, they are released from the constraints of conformity and are able to be their true selves.
By setting the scene of their sexual interaction within the meat store, a place already interesting for its frankly odd (and unsanitary?) character, this scene shows a deeper societal understanding of homosexuality. Aaron and Ezri are forced to make love in this enclosed, hidden space because it is outside the realm of normality. Rather, it lies in the realm of immorality, a taboo of sorts for any “sensible” member of their society.
As the film progresses, the community begins to have suspicions of Ezri’s “immorality” and label him as unholy and as a sinner. They even urge Aaron to kick him out of the meat shop and community forever. Yet, at this point in the film, Aaron’s relationship with Ezri is characterized by his dependence on him to feel sexually alive.
With Aaron refusing to kick out Ezri, the morality enforcers became active. However, Aaron’s reluctance can not stop the morality enforcers from taking action. Much like the Puritan society members of Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” or the more modern Faith Militant of George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones,” this group worked to cleanse the community of sinners and noncomformists. Ezri, as if he too bore a giant red “A” on his chest, is singled out and ostracized for living differently.
In fact, reluctance is all that Aaron has to show for his love of Ezri at the very end. When the morality enforcers come about and beat Ezri, Aaron faces a grave decision: to embrace his sexuality or restore his faith.
Ultimately, he holds onto the idea that these feelings and desires are nothing more than a challenge from God. In order to reconcile with his face, he turns away from his sexuality. He turns away from Ezri.
It’s hard to say what someone would do in Aaron’s position because there isn’t a right answer. Aaron was raised Jewish so it’s reasonable for him to want to keep his faith. On the other hand, his homosexuality is a part of him as much as his faith. It’s a shame that to have one, he must sacrifice the other. Nevertheless, we all encounter difficult decisions and culture clashes at one point or another. Eyes Wide Open portrays the many struggles and sacrifices that we must make in order to move on when in such situations.
Featured image courtesy of www.imdb.com.