Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Understanding the movie "Bee Season"

I just saw a movie called "Bee Season," with Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche. It was probably the smartest movie I've seen in some time. Below I have an interpretation of this movie, but you're better off seeing the movie before you read this because if you read my understanding of the movie, it might just ruin it for you. In fact, maybe I'll write the interpretation assuming that you've already seen the movie.

First of all, let's look at the characters. The father (Richard Gere), a conservative Jew who is a college professor on Kabbalah and Mysticism. His son, looking for G-d and truth just as his father is. His daughter, a regular elementary school girl who has a gift for nevuah (prophecy); her gift manifests itself in her being able to close her eyes and "see the words" when participating in spelling bees.

The mother, a convert, also has this gift, but she was never a vessel for it. In other words, she was never able to understand or harness the power of her gift. In her childhood, she never knew how to understand the things she saw and it manifested itself into an OCD-like kleptomania where she stole things thinking they belonged to her.

When she met her husband (Richard Gere), he explained the deep secrets of the universe, including the story of how G-d made a vessel to hold His light, and the vessel couldn't handle the power of G-d's light and so it broke into many pieces, and the purpose of the universe in our world (tikkun olam) is to recover those "shards of glass" as a metaphor for the broken pieces of the vessel that couldn't handle G-dly light. I'm highly simplifying the story; people spend their whole lives immersing themselves in the Torah to get even a glimpse of an understanding of this story and the meanings of it all.

Needless to say, the mother took the whole concept of tikkun olam -- literally, fixing the world by restoring the vessel so that it can hold the G-dly light -- and she understood it literally. So she started breaking into people's houses and stealing little pieces of glass and jewelry -- the "shards of glass" so that it can hold "the light" as being literally light instead of the metaphor regarding G-dly light that Richard Gere was talking about when he told her the story. You could say that she herself was the broken vessel, given the gift of prophesy, but she couldn't handle the gift and so it broke her and fragmented her life into many pieces.

The interesting thing that happened in the movie is that the mother, tormented with this gift, saw that her daughter also saw things, and she had this gift also. It made her cry as we saw on multiple occasions in the movie where she put her daughter to sleep each night.

The more the daughter got better at using the visions to win each spelling bee, the worse the mother became with her kleptomania. You could say one inspired the other. Once the mother went to the hospital when she was caught collecting all the stolen pieces of jewelry and glass, the daughter made the connection that her mothers disease had to do with her spelling bee, although the daughter didn't quite understand the connection. Once she learned that her mother was sick, she thought all the way until the end of the movie before she threw the spelling bee that she had to win the spelling bee to make her mother better and to bring her family back together again.

As a side plot, her father noticed that she had the gift, and so being the Kabbalah and mysticism teacher, he started to teach her the Abulafia method for permutating letters, a method of spiritual awakening where the person as a result achieves a deep connection with G-d akin to prophesy, causing their whole body to shake and tremble from their experience. Before the final spelling bee, after the mother was already hospitalized, the daughter practiced the Abulafia method and achieved the level of prophecy. When she awoke from the experience, she experienced visual distortions.

All through the movie, her father would tell her to "speak the words of G-d and let G-d run through you when you stand there on the stage and you do what you do at the spelling bees." At the final moment in the national championship spelling bee competition, after the girl reached the level of prophecy from her Abulafia experience the night before, she realized that just because she was given an ability and a spiritual gift does not mean that it was G-d's will for her to use it. Had she used the gift which was tempting her to win the competition, she realized that her mother would have continued to be sick, and her family would have broken apart. However, abstaining from using the gift and throwing the spelling competition brought her family back together.

The twisted lesson of the movie is that sometimes we are given gifts and powers that we may or may not be vessels for. If we are not a proper vessel for this energy (G-dly light), then it will manifest itself in ways that can fragment and destroy us. However, even if we are "a vessel for the light," a.k.a., even if we are able to harness and take hold of the power / the light / the gift / the energy -- I'm referring to the same gift -- that does not mean that it is G-d will for us to use it. Sometimes it is better to live in the real world, rather than indulge in the spiritual candy we are given. In other words, just because we can do something special doesn't mean that we necessarily should do it. Just because we are given a gift doesn't mean we are supposed to use it. This is the lesson from the movie as I understand it.


H Braverman said...

I just saw the last quarter of the movie when I found it on Showtime this morning (around 5 am, and on a sidenote, this is Shabbot, the day of the Jewish sabbath, of which it is forbidden to turn on a t.v., much less anything else electrical). It's eight years after you wrote your synopsis POV of this movie, which I found on Google. I counter your understanding that we should not always use our gifts. Why else would G-D give us these gifts? We should not stifle the gifts given us through G-D unless of course it would harm someone. In the case here in the movie, it was noble of the girl to lose the spelling bee if she knew winning it would harm her family. The point of using our gifts is to do Good...(and you see the name of G-d is in the word Good...however the transmutations only make sense in the language Hebrew, which is a mistake in the movie, and a metaphor which I use in "jest".) I believe every person of every religion and even of no religion is capable of reaching a holy (if you can call it that) type of revelation and accordingly, act Good. ... but only sometimes. No person acts good always. And some people misuse their "powers". Humans have egos. It is important to realize the person in the movie who chose not to use her "gift" was a child, which is special, as Jesus stated we need to be children or "child-like" to enter the kingdom of Heaven. And the Kingdom is inside of us, folks, not where the birds fly.

Zoe Strickman said...

Now, many years later, I could say that I too was affected by the Bee Season movie (and still am).

I picked up an electric piano yesterday and started singing niggunim (spiritual tunes), while a new website ("Chordify") told me which cords to play. It was very cathartic, especially since my singing voice has been a gift from G-d which I have not used since I became religious. I have no interest in using it for religious purposes, and I don't want to be a show-off, so I don't use it at all.

That being said, the kids and my wife enjoyed watching and listening to me sing, and in some way, perhaps it inspired them a bit.

Saara said...

I read the book and haven't seen the movie. My took on it was that mother was suffering from schizophrenia and daughter was on her way too. Didn't see a god in it. I'm quite baffled by these comments. I'll try to get my hands on the movie to see if they've changed it much.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the movie and I think that you have put it absolutely correctly that we don't have to necessarily use all the gifts that g-d has given us as sometimes if we don't use them correctly then we may harm not only ourselves but also others.
Also, I think the girl did something very brave by throwing away the championship as she brought her family back together.
Thank you for summarizing the movie so brilliantly.