The Chosen (1981)

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The Chosen (1981) is an excellent film adaptation of the Chaim Potok novel of the same name.   It is an account of two Jewish boys growing up in New York during WWII up to the founding of  the State of Israel.   It stars Maximilian Schnell,   Rod Steiger,  Robby Benson, and Barry Miller.  It won awards at both the Montreal and Paris Film Festivals.

The Chosen is a quiet little film that explores some key tensions in Jewish life in America. It addresses the tension between the expressions of  Judaism that seek absolute fidelity to the past and the expressions of  Judaism that seek to remain Jewish while engaging with modernity.  It explores the tension between generations of a family,  and the meanings that tension has for each generation.

The film is deeply rooted in time and place: it was shot in Brooklyn, and it explores a particular moment in Jewish history.

I have seen comments to the effect that The Chosen is not a completely accurate picture of  Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) orthodoxy.  I find that it is a less sensational picture than many other more recent films have depicted. The viewer might want to keep in mind that the film was made almost 30 years ago, and that both the communities shown in the film and the broader Jewish world have changed since then.

So don’t watch it and think it’s all there is to know about Haredi life. On the other hand, the tensions portrayed are accurate and as vital today as they were then. ~Ruth Adar, JewishFilm

The overemphatic acting of Robby Benson was something of an endurance test to certain critics of the 1980s, but even these carpers were impressed by Benson’s outstanding performance in The Chosen.

Set in the Brooklyn of the 1940s, the film elucidates the friendship between two young Jews of differing factions. Benson is Hassidic, whileBarry Miller is a Zionist. Though separated ideologically, the boys find a common bond through their love of stickball. Rod Steiger costars as Benson’s rabbi father, delivering a performance virtually devoid of the mannered stridency that has marred many of his more recent film work.

Based on a novel by Chaim Potok, The Chosen has become an annual Hannukah-season TV attraction in many cities; years after its release, the film served as the basis for a short-lived Broadway musical. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide


Maximilian Schell – David Malter
Rod Steiger – Reb Saunders
Robby Benson – Danny Saunders
Barry Miller – Reuven Malter
Hildy Brooks – Mrs. Saunders

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