|Directed by:||Otto Preminger||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||1960||Running Time:||208 mins|
Director Otto Preminger’s Academy Award winning classic Exodus is an epic war film that explores the dramatic founding of the State of Israel. Tough-guy Paul Newman leads an all-star cast in the weighty drama that the New York Times called “a dazzling, nerve-tingling display that rips the heart.”
“Terror, violence, death — they are the midwives that bring free nations into this world,” a leader in the militant Zionist group the Irgun, explains: “I don’t know of one nation, either now or in the past, that was not born of violence.” Israel is to be no exception.
Based on the international bestselling novel by Leon Uris, Exodus takes its name from the 1947 ship whose mission of carrying Jewish refugees from Marseilles to Palestine was thwarted by British forces who boarded the ship at Cyprus, meeting a violent resistance from its passengers. The ship was towed to Haifa, its passengers deported back to France, where they refused to disembark. In the end, the refugees were sent back to Germany and forcibly taken by British soldiers to refugee camps.
The critically acclaimed film follows the commander of the Exodus, underground Israeli officer Ari Ben Canaan, played by a dashing young Paul Newman, as he fights to establish a Jewish homeland. With Ari as their leader, 600 Jews are willing to risk everything to set out for the Holy Land.
Linking twentieth-century events to an ancient Biblical narrative, Exodus sets itself up as a modern parallel to the Jewish flight out of Egypt, where Ari plays Moses and asks the British to ‘let my people go,’ so that the huge freighter, stuck in the Cyprus harbor, can make its way to Palestine.
Exodus embraces the idea of Jewish solidarity and suffering for the sake of the Jewish cause. “It’s like leaving your family when things are bad,” an adolescent girl says, explaining why she’d rather stay in Palestine to struggle alongside other Holocaust survivors than live comfortably in America. Expressing the same stoic drive, two Jewish mothers clasp their children to their breasts and demand to stay on the ship, refusing to get off and get food for their children—which they desperately need. “We will go to Palestine,” a mother says, “or we will die on this ship together.”
In the midst of heated political tension, religious differences threaten everything — even Ari’s slow-blooming love affair with the wafer-thin blonde, Ms. Katharine Freemont (Academy Award-winner Eva Marie Saint), a volunteer nurse caring for Jewish refugees. When they meet, attraction takes hold of them both, but religion drives a wedge into their romance. An American Protestant, Katherine wants to believe that they’re essentially the same, but Ari, who grew up in Palestine, sees himself as distinctly Jewish. “You make me feel like a Presbyterian,” Katharine complains, “when you can’t for just a minute or two forget that you’re a Jew.”
Filmed on location, Exodus offers breath-taking panoramic shots of the rocky, olive tree covered hills of Israel. Visually spectacular, the film captures the Middle East’s winding country roads, the endless sky, and the open sea—it’s not surprising that the cinematographer was nominated for an Oscar.
The film also stresses the necessity of a Jewish homeland. After World War II, Jewish refugees left Europe feeling betrayed and cynical, and it only made things worse that the nations they fled to greeted them with antagonism. “The Arabs don’t want them in Palestine,” a cab driver explains, “and as far as I know the British don’t want them here (in Cyprus) either, but they’ve got them!”
Unified by their language and tradition, Jews felt they needed their own land, where anti-Semitism wouldn’t be an issue and the ruling government wouldn’t find them threatening.
“We have no friends except ourselves,” Ari tells a group of soldiers. “They say how terrible it was that six million Jews went into the oven, but when the showdown comes we always stand alone.”