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A Price Above Rubies  

This is why I try to avoid religion. Much of what passes as truth and enlightenment is really an excuse for embittered, angry, tyrannical or insane souls to control the world. Of course, I think that most of us would, if ushered into a position of absolute authority, would, knowingly or not, dictate to the rest of the planet what our values and morals ought to be. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I know I`d be having a lot of fun as a ruthless tyrant, which is why I demand that nobody reading this shall ever nominate me for any position of power. Besides, if I were given the opportunity to run the planet for a foreseeable amount of time, my first course of action would be to get rid of organized religion, especially the sort of people depicted in A Price Above Rubies. This movie attempts to paint the group as one which is intolerant to women`s freedom, saying that it is offensive and neglectful towards God, while at the same time, allowing men to ignore their families for their own so-called freedom, which is to pray and be utterly devoted to God, at all times. This sort of situation is pretty silly, in my opinion. For one thing, do you really think God would have went through all that trouble creating women if they were only going to be oppressed and unable to make something out of their lives?

Renee Zellwegger plays a proper Jewish wife, married to a husband of scholarly bent. The family and other surrounding individuals are very deeply involved in the ways of the Jewish faith, and of the teachings of the Torah. She wants to be a part of this group, and to live the proper Jewish life, but her heart is not into it. And she is willing to question certain aspects of behaviour, especially about the sex life of her and her husband. The husband is not able to express passion, because he is constantly aware of God`s presence, watching over them, and is afraid of committing carnal sin. It does not help, for him, that his own wife wants to be passionate, since the belief seems to be that women must be good little wives who don`t demand, or deserve, sexual pleasure. All of these problems makes her a candidate for spiritual trouble, and it is so deep that it manifests itself in physical ways, as in a scene, in front of a rabbi, where she talks about feeling a fever, a heat, throughout her entire body. This is obviously sexual frustration, but the attitude of those around her seems to be that she is disturbed. After this is what I thought was the silliest scene in the film, when, later, after hearing such tumultuous confession, the rabbi decides to get a little randy with his wife. Next shot - the guy croaks and all the Hasidic men are in grievous mourning. The rabbi, possibly taking a cue from the first few minutes of Body of Evidence, had died of heart failure, apparently due to you-know-what!

Her brother-in-law poses a problem even larger than her sexual frustration, because he offers her a new opportunity in life while at the same time oppresses her. He gives her a job in what appears to me as a black market jewellery store. This allows her to have a real career outside of the home, and to pursue her interest in jewellery. Yet at the same time, the brother-in-law is a pig - he basically rapes her a number of times, giving numerous excuses such as that it is not the number but the quality of sins that matter to God, and, most importantly, that she has to pay a price for freedom.

During her stint as a jewellery representative, she takes up the cause of one local artist, who by day works for one of the brother-in-law`s clients. The woman is very impressed by the artist`s skills, and does all in her power to convince him to actually do something with his talent, instead of squandering it away and not allowing others to see it. Her growing connection with the artist is interesting, because he represents everything that she is not - a person who, if he wants to, can use his freedom without persecution and oppression from the community. Her persistence is a sign that, if she can`t be truly free in her community, then at the very least she should do a good deed and allow someone else to realize his true potential.

This was a prettty interesting film, exploring a culture and a way of life not usually depicted in the movies. While I doubt the film is very detailed about Orthodox Judaism, at least we are supplied a rare subject for a drama. And it is Zellwegger who really matters in this story. We don`t really see her as a tough-minded individual, but more of a sweet person. Yet she is able to, most of the time, project herself here as sincere in her questioning of the community in which she belongs to. I really enjoyed a lot of the scenes, especially the one where she basically tells off the rabbi who has the effrontery to claim that all people bring suffering amongst themselves. She pratically dares him to apply that theory to adults and children, like her own relatives, who died in the Holocaust. What did they do to deserve that???

Like I said earlier, attitudes like that of the rabbi seem to cover up the possibility that religious authorities need people to listen to them, to follow their orders. To say that all these things offend God is ridiculous. How would these rabbis know? Do they talk to God? Do they know what offends Him? These are the same people who also say that God works in mysterious ways; that we cannot understand such a being in our temporal world. If you don`t know what God is really like, then how do you know what offends Him??? For all I know, God could be offended by a lot of things we`ve never thought of. Perhaps He`s offended by Pokèmon. Perhaps He`s offended by Spam. Perhaps He`s offended by John Rocker. Perhaps He`s offended by religious people, and would like to get it through their stubborn brains that they ought to get a life. I don`t know!! Maybe He would really like a woman like Zellwegger`s character to find love, and a career, and some hobbies. I would certainly hope so, since He did create people who can experience those capacities. The message of this film seems to be that such power exhibited by the church, or any group, is ultimatly a bondage. While some people strongly believe these things, they also expect others to as well - my way or the highway (to hell?). But while it`s one thing to debate morality, and to attempt to understand the nature of the universe, it is quite another to force people to follow your lead.

David Macdonald

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