Timothée Chalamet in "Wonka," now playing in theaters. (Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Timothée Chalamet in "Wonka," now playing in theaters. (Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

A Jewish guide to this winter’s biggest movies

(JTA) — Several of the biggest movies out right now have Jewish themes or backstories of note. Here’s your Jewish guide to the new theatrical and streaming options available over winter break.

“Wonka”

There’s nothing Jewish about the story in this new musical film about the central character in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the beloved novel by Roald Dahl. And Dahl himself was so avowedly antisemitic that his own family has apologized for “the lasting and understandable hurt” he caused.

But the movie is a(nother) breakout role for Timothee Chalamet, a megastar who is Jewish — he has said he got the acting bug from his mother, the Jewish actress-turned-New York City real estate agent Nicole Flender. Chalamet is reviving a role first played by the Jewish actor Gene Wilder in 1971.

“The Color Purple”

Again, there’s nothing Jewish to the movie itself — except that it’s based on the classic novel by Alice Walker, who was once married to a Jewish man and more lately has become known for her virulently anti-Israel and antisemitic views. The story of a young Black woman’s self-empowerment and discovery of her own sexuality amid the horrific, abusive conditions of her life in the early-1900s rural South first appeared as a book in 1982, then was made into a movie by Jewish director Steven Spielberg in 1985. Spielberg is involved as a producer with the musical remake, which adapts a stage version of the story, but hasn’t has made any public comments about Walker or the new “Color Purple” this year.

“The Zone of Interest”

Filmed in Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered more than 1 million Jews, this movie adapts the 2014 novel by Martin Amis that dissects the mentality of Nazi officers and their families as they attempt to construct compartmentalized personal lives while committing atrocities against Jews. In the movie version, directed by the acclaimed British Jewish filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, the protagonist is explicitly Auschwitz death camp commandant Rudolf Höss.

Glazer has said that he hopes the film adaptation would “talk to the capacity within each of us for violence, wherever you’re from.” It was important, he said, to depict Nazis not as “monsters,” but rather to show that “the great crime and tragedy is that human beings did this to other human beings.”

“Maestro”

You can see this Leonard Bernstein biopic in some theaters, but you can also watch it from the comfort of your own home on Netflix. The movie drew significant interest before its release because of controversy over the prosthetic nose worn by the non-Jewish star and producer Bradley Cooper to play Bernstein, which some said smacked of antisemitic stereotypes. But since its release, the film is drawing mostly plaudits from Jewish viewers — some of whom have been tickled to see Bernstein wearing a sweater with the word “Harvard” in Hebrew.

“Iron Claw”

This new movie tells the tragic story of the Von Erichs, the first family of professional wrestling in Texas — who were massively popular in Israel at their height in the 1980s.

In fact, the Von Erichs’ promotion, World Class Championship Wrestling, was reported to be one of the most popular English-language programs in Israel for a time, and it was an injury sustained on a trip there that spelled the beginning of the end for the family’s preeminence in the sport.

“Freud’s Last Session”

This film imagines an improbable encounter between the Jewish psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the Christian novelist C.S. Lewis in September 1939, just as Hitler has invaded Poland and launched World War II. In their extended dialogue, the two men argue about the nature of God — Freud is an avowed atheist — and viewers see snapshots of Freud’s life in his native Austria before fleeing the Nazis for London. Beware: The movie isn’t getting very good reviews. It also shows Freud in remarkable health for someone who died of cancer the month the movie is set.

JTA

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