“Defiance” movie intermixes many stories

Posted in Film, Judaism, Russian, Storytelling by Alex L. on March 18, 2009

Defiance movie poster

A few days ago, I watched the movie “Defiance” with my parents. The plot was engaging, the acting was decent, and there were tasteful doses of action, romance, and philosophy throughout. What most captured my imagination about the movie, though, was a theme I mentioned a few days ago: storytelling. Defiance manages to tell, in one film, a Belarusian, Jewish, and American story. Those three happen to be my personal backgrounds (although I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian by faith, I am also ethnically Jewish) so I found myself drawn to all aspects of the film.

I think the overarching story is a retelling of the Exodus narrative: the Belarusian (technically, what is now western Belarus was eastern Poland at that time) Jews are in the wilderness, escaping from their pursuant enemies – the Germans rather than the Egyptians. Tuvia Bielski is a Moses figure and the film even has a modern rendition of the parting-of-the-Red-Sea tale. In addition to the Jewish theme, Defiance glorifies the heroes of the Great Patriotic War, a common Russian motif. Finally, these familiar narratives are packaged into a Hollywood product. I enjoyed this American take on a Russian story (although my friend Mike, also a Russian, loathed the movie for its American clichés). Russian movies are often tragic and lack the redemptive, life-affirming conclusions of American films. Defiance fits the latter mold and follows the Hollywood forumla in other ways too (such as the obligatory love story). All in all, the movie Defiance is an interesting study in how narratives from different cultures can be synthesized to tell a refreshing, if familiar, story.

2 Responses

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  1. Brigid said, on May 15, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Why do you think it is that American movies are so different in form than Russian films? I’ve noticed that trend with other foreign films as well. I don’t think it’s all Disney’s fault. Didn’t they used to have filters back in the day where the bad guy was required to either die or get his comeuppance in some other way? hmmph…

  2. historyjournalblog said, on May 21, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Hey Brigid,

    Thanks for the comment. I had not heard of such filters before – there have always been restrictions against indecency in film but it would be interesting to find out whether other prohibitions against immoral stories had effected the way films have been written in America. I think foreign films are different from American ones because they reflect ideas about life that those cultures hold (which differ from Americans’). So Russian films are oftentimes more tragic because Russians have seen more of this side of life, while American films resemble the “can-do, will overcome” attitude of our (will you allow me to say “our”?) people.


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