Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review of One Night with the King

Jewish date:  8 ’Adhar 5733 (evening) (Parashath Teṣawweh).

Today’s holidays:  First Sunday of Lent (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Isaac Asimov (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of Giordano Bruno the Martyr (Thelema), Quirinalia (Roman religion)


Considering that Purim is a week from now, I would like to give a review on a relevant movie, One Night with the King.

I have been told that I tend to give negative reviews.  Fair enough.  This is Divine Misconceptions, the blog which concentrates on religious fallacies and misinformation.  Thus I often read or watch material containing religious fallacies and misinformation—material I know full well has something wrong with it—and report on it, thus leading to negative reviews.  I am thus happy, for a change, to review a movie based on a book of the Hebrew Bible which I consider done well.

One Night with the King is an adaptation of the Book of Esther, and the people who made it thought a lot about what they were doing, and they took care to go back to the original material.  The basic plot, most of the characters, and much of the dialog are taken straight from the text of Esther.  In doing the work of adaptation, the adaptors were very careful to interpret the original story in a psychologically plausible manner rather than rewrite it.  For example, some examples of interpretation:
  • How was Haman descended from ’Aghagh when all of ‘Amaleq was wiped out?  ’Aghagh’s queen, pregnant with his child, escaped.
  • Why did Haman hate the Jews so much?  ’Aghagh’s queen passed on a multigenerational grudge.  (That does happen at times.)
  • Why was Mordokhay sitting in the palace gates so much?  He was a palace scribe.
  • Why did Washti refuse to come to ’Aḥashwerosh’s banquet?  She was protesting ’Aḥashwerosh’s plans to go to war against Greece in revenge for for his father dying in war against them.
  • Where was Haman to get that huge amount of money he promised ’Aḥashwerosh in return for being able to destroy the Jews?  He proposed to get it from the Jews by killing them and taking all their money and property; the money would be used to finance the war.
There was a lot of thought put into elaborating on the characters.
  • Mordokhay is well aware of the inconsistency between his religion and his remaining in Persia.  (This was a very real problem in the Second Temple Period, when most Jews remained in the Diaspora rather than return to Israel, and the inconsistency is a major problem today.)  He wavers between hiding his Jewishness and taking pride in it.  (This happens a lot today, too.)  
  • ’Ester has been blown up into a multilingual, literate, and educated character who wants to run off to Yerushalayim with her boyfriend.  After being conscripted into ’Aḥashwerosh’s harem, in the finest of human fashion, she becomes a writhing mass of contradiction.  She tries to make the best of her situation and becomes romantically entangled with ’Aḥashwerosh.  And she also cannot ignore the politics being worked about her; she has to become involved.
  • ’Aḥashwerosh is portrayed as torn between his love of art and learning, on one hand, and on the other hand the need for following protocol and wreaking revenge.  His attraction to ’Ester is not just based on her beauty, but her mind as well.  (He has taste in women and finds less-intellectual women boring.)
  • Haman is portrayed not only as carrying on a family tradition of hatred, but also as a master political schemer.  His ultimate goal is to become king, and he is quite willing to step on anyone who gets in the way of that goal.  About the only thing that matters to him other than revenge and political ambitions is family—and his wife Zeresh encourages Haman in his wickedness.  Haman repeatedly gives eloquent political speeches, spreading conspiracy “theories” about the Jews and the Greeks secretly plotting to destroy the Persian Empire.  He comes off as a truly evil and dangerous villain.
Are there inaccuracies in One Night with the King?  Yes.  For example:
  • ’Aghagh’s queen passes down to her descendants a symbol which is a variant on the swastika.  While this is an obvious reference to the Nazis, the swastika did not originate with anti-Semites and has been used by a variety of cultures throughout human history.
  • The anachronistic use of the swastika is balanced by an anachronistic use of the hexagram (Star of David, Shield of Solomon) as a symbol for the Jews.  Until Jews adopted the hexagram in the 1800s, it was a geometric and magical symbol.
  • ’Ester probably did not have a boyfriend before she was abducted.  The concepts of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” do not appear in the Hebrew Bible at all.
  • The Book of Esther makes no mention of the conscription of young men to become eunuchs.  Thus the undesirable fate of ’Ester’s boyfriend in the film probably never happened.
  • ’Ester in this film claims to have read The Epic of Gilgamesh in the original.  Your humble blogger is under the impression this may be anachronistic.
  • Haman is unaware that the names of the months are not Jewish.
  • In the film, it is repeatedly claimed that the Greeks practice democracy, as if this were a universal for them.  Your humble blogger is under the impression that Greece in the ancient world, at least before Alexander the Great’s conquests, was a collection of city-states with a variety of styles of government.
  • ’Ester’s fast is too short, and she only has one feast in the film.
However, none of the inaccuracies are large enough to make much of difference in an overall story which largely follows the original Book of Esther.  As such, they are for the most part forgivable.



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