Critical Essays The Film Version of The Chosen


Readers of The Chosen can benefit from seeing the film version of the novel. The film gives a visually detailed view of the life of Hasidic Jews, including how they dress and perform religious rituals. Although both the novel and the film version concentrate on many of the same themes, the film version differs most from the novel in terms of the significance of Reuven's hospital stay following the accident during the softball game, and the treatment of women.

The movie opens, as does the novel, with a softball game. The viewer immediately gets an insight into Hasidim (the people of the sect of Hasidism), represented by Danny Saunders' team, which has come to play the team of Reuven Malter, a Modern Orthodox Jew. The Hasidim wear long black coats, wide-brimmed hats, and prayer shawls, the fringes of which hang out of their clothes at the waists. This style of dress has remained the same since the sect was founded in eighteenth-century Europe.

However old-fashioned and backward-looking the Hasidim may appear to outsiders, they know how to play softball, and they're very good at it, too. In fact, the star player for the Hasidic team, Danny Saunders, is so good that he hits the ball at the pitcher (Reuven) with enough force to smash Reuven's glasses and send him to the hospital. Reuven and Danny might not have met had it not been for the softball game, by Reuven's own admission.

The film differs from the book in that the six-day hospital stay described in the novel is reduced to one brief hospital scene in the film. The conversations between Danny and Reuven, Reuven and his father, and the three of them that take place over six days in the book are spread throughout the movie.

This restructuring of the film sharpens the focus of the relationship between Danny and Reuven. Many of their interactions take place in each other's homes, where the film audience is not distracted by the peripheral conversations and activities that take place in the novel. A more intimate relationship between Danny and Reuven becomes possible.

For example, in the film, Danny tells Reuven about his photographic memory at the latter's home. Reuven is skeptical, so he hands a newspaper to Danny. The look on his face says, in effect, "Show me, Danny." Danny does, and Reuven is astonished. In the novel, Reuven simply accepts at face value Danny's assertion that he has a photographic memory; he requires no proof.

Probably the most important difference between the novel and the movie version is that the movie allows us to see Danny and Reuven as adolescent teenagers interested in having a social life. In the novel, the two boys have endless discussions about religion and philosophy, but they rarely talk about the opposite sex. Danny's lack of interest in anything romantic can be explained by Hasidic marriage customs, in which boys and girls are matched early in life and have no choice about whom they marry.

Of course, in the novel, female characters receive less treatment than do male characters. Hasidic Judaism is a patriarchal society wherein women's primary roles are to bear and raise children (admittedly very important roles) and tend to the daily upkeep of the home. The only time women appear in the novel are brief scenes in which Danny's mother and sister are present. Reuven briefly mentions being interested in Danny's sister, but we don't even learn her name. Reuven's deceased mother is only casually mentioned, as is Reuven and Mr. Malter's Russian housekeeper, Manya, who, when she first greets Reuven on his arrival home from the hospital, "began to babble in Ukrainian." Potok's characterization of Manya is less than flattering.

The film version of The Chosen treats romantic interests differently. For example, in one scene, everyone is celebrating the end of World War II. Amid the merry-making, girls are kissing boys, including one girl who kisses Danny. He resists the kiss and afterward wipes it off his lips with his sleeve. Hasidic men are allowed to kiss only their wives.

But Reuven, a Modern Orthodox Jew, demonstrates an interest in the opposite sex. Unlike Danny, he approaches females with an intention to start a relationship. Whereas in the novel Reuven notices Danny's sister but we don't know her name, in the movie we discover that her name is Sheindl (Shane dull). In one scene in the film, Sheindl sits on a couch in her family's living room, reading. Reuven tries to see the title of the book and moves toward her on the couch. She moves away, and the two play a rather coy cat-and-mouse game until Sheindl's mother calls for her to help in the kitchen.

We also see Reuven at a boy-girl party at his home. He takes a girl's hand, leads her out into the hallway, and kisses her.

And yet another scene details a Hasidic wedding. By custom, a partition separates the males from the females, and they do not dance together. Reuven dares to go past the partition, catches Sheindl's eye, and smiles at her. She returns the smile. Alarmed at this, Mrs. Saunders beckons Danny to tell Reuven about the Hasidic marriage custom.