The Jewish holiday of Pesach, or Passover is right around the corner, and we’ve got you covered for the best movies to watch!
No, Passover isn’t the Jewish version of Easter. Passover retells the Exodus story, detailed in the second book of the Torah. According to the story, God commands the prophet Moses to tell the Israelites to mark a lamb’s blood above their doors in order that the Angel of Death will pass over them. This was the tenth of the 10 Plagues; the Death of the Firstborn. After this plague, according to the story, Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to leave Egypt immediately, taking whatever they could carry. Thus forms the basis of the story we recount every year, that challenges us to consider our own liberation.
Today, the Jewish community around the world gathers on the first night of Passover for a special dinner called a Seder. During this meal, we recount the Exodus story using a guide called a Haggadah (plural: Haggadot). The Seder consists of questions and answers, all designed to make us reflect on how the Exodus story can be applied to our lives today.
Once you’ve had your fill of Matzah (unleavened bread, since we can’t have anything that rises!), maybe consider checking out one of these movies enhance your holiday experience:
The 10 Commandments (1956):
Perhaps the most well-known recounted story of the Exodus, this Cecil B. DeMille classic is always a good option. This epic really doesn’t let up in its 220 minute run time. The movie itself, while of course drawing from the Book of Exodus, was also based on the novels ‘Prince of Egypt’ by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, ‘Pillar of Fire’ by Joseph Holt Ingraham, and ‘On Eagles Wings’ by Arthur Eustace Southon.
The performances in this movie are among some of the best of classic Hollywood. While the story itself may have taken fantastical liberties with the original stories, there are so many compelling performances to almost make it worth it. You can’t talk about The Ten Commandments without talking about the legendary Charleton Heston, and the great Yul Brynner was nothing less than mesmerizing.
Europa Europa (1990):
Based on the incredible true story of Solomon Perel, Europa Europa tells a fictionalized version of one young man’s journey through World War 2. Perel went on an epic journey across Europe, from his home in Germany under nazi rule, to Poland, to the Soviet Union, and back to Germany. At one point, Perel was involved in the interrogation of Josef Stalin’s son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, an event portrayed in the film. Europa Europa a devastating portrait of the devastation caused by the Holocaust and World War 2, seen through the eyes of one man caught up in it all.
Now, why watch this movie on Passover? The movie’s Passover scene takes place in the course of a dream, one of two visually stunning sequences. It’s a haunting, touching meditation on identity. It’s also a heartbreaking reminder that no matter how much we may long for it, the past can never return.
The Prince of Egypt (1998):
One of the most enthralling re-tellings of the Exodus story, DreamWork Studio’s The Prince of Egypt stands the test of time in so many ways. From the music, which is among the best movie soundtracks period, to the small details like Val Kilmer voicing Moses and the voice of God. The great Ofra Haza leading the incredible group of singers that made this soundtrack legendary really just added an additional layer of decorum and class that never left the movie for a moment.
Those looking for an unimpeachably accurate depiction of the Exodus story will not find it here. That being said, there are many gaps in the life of Moses as told in Exodus, that certainly leaves much room for interpretation. What this movie did was focus less on maintaining biblical accuracy, and rather what has made this story such a compelling one across faith traditions for thousands of years. The strategy worked to perfection.
Nora’s Will (2008):
Nora’s Will was a hidden gem on the 2008-2009 film festival circuit. This Mexican film tells the story of a man picking up the pieces after his former wife dies by suicide in the days leading up to Passover. What follows is poignant and heartbreaking journey, punctuated with moments of humor. This movie has an important message about the perils of judgement. It’s a commentary on how suicide is still incredibly stigmitized even today. It was ultimately a meditation on the power of love, and a compassionate look at mental illness.
I know what you’re thinking. Why would I watch a biopic of one of the most famous American presidents? Lincoln was a standard-fare, Oscar-bait biopic with a captivating performance by Daniel Day Lewis, for which he won an Oscar. Did you know that in fact, the sixteenth US President died on the first day of Passover in 1865, after being infamously shot in a theatre by John Wilkes Booth. Reportedly, the Jewish community heard the news of Lincoln’s assassination and death from their fellow Americans as they made their way to Shabbat celebrations during Passover, and were subsequently overwhelmed with grief. If historical dramas with a little bit of accuracy are your thing, this may be the movie for you to check out, if you haven’t already.
Uncut Gems (2019):
Uncut Gems represented a massive shift for those accustomed to seeing Adam Sandler in terrible comedies. He deserves credit for signing onto films with stunning locations in order to take a vacation with his family. Uncut Gems garnered a lot of acclaim for Sandler’s performance, as well as the disconcerting nature of the story itself. The Passover scene in this movie is among the most chaotic and unsettling, in a movie filled with chaotic and unsettling scenes. It’s a very dark and sinister take on the holiday that in the context of the movie works to perfection.
However you celebrate Passover, here’s hoping it’s a meaningful one. With the Festival being 7-8 days long, depending on if you’re in Israel or the Diaspora, there’s plenty of time to catch any of these movies to get into the holiday spirit. Chag Sameach!