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With the lead in of “a priest and a rabbi” it’s hard not to anticipate a punchline with a least a little prejudice. Keeping the Faith explores the role of multiculturalism in the contemporary urban setting of New York. On the other hand, the movie relies on stereotypes and tropes fairly heavily. Although it seems that the movie is attempting a degree of irony in this reliance, at times it comes off as half-baked. This idea translates to the movie’s depiction of Judaism, which is obscured behind its notion of faith. Keeping the Faith suggests that even in the exclusive world of Conservative Judaism, there is room for progress.
The movie, through its stars, favors a melting pot dynamic of diversity over the cultural pluralism model. Whereas the cultural pluralism dynamic emphasizes a unique ethnic cultural identity, the melting pot model strives to become “Americans All”. In the past the melting pot model led to less diversity, in the modern New York setting I would argue it leads to more because the definition of what it means to be American has changed.
Through its modern acceptance of diversity and pluralism, the movie proposes a shift from heterogeneity towards homogeneity. The movie sought to highlight the melted unity through, as Norton claimed, “The idea that everyone in New York is a mutt.” (416, Baron) Essentially, by either birth (e.g. the bartender who is a Sikh Catholic Muslim with Jewish in-laws who owns an Irish Pub) or choice (e.g. Jacob’s multicultural approach to religion), everyone in New York has multiple components of identity. In contrast to previous movies which presented American culture as mosaic, this movie suggests that contemporary urban society is one willing to learn and appropriate foreign traditions.
Judaism is represented through a diverse spectrum as seen through the Jake’s synagogue. The movie presents the modern take on the persistent trend in Judaism of progress and its resistance. Although Jake embraces modern liturgy and interreligious pluralism with his community’s practice with meditation and a gospel choir, the more conservative members, led by Larry Friedman are opposed to the changes. However Jake’s progressive approach doesn’t necessarily outshine his less redeeming qualities which make up his narcissism. His acquisitional approach in his youth with his rabbi cards can be traced to his seduction of Anna despite his friendship with Brian. The film portrays Judaism as having a social code, but not a moral one.
Jewish character tropes sprinkled throughout the movie are typical: the Jewish Mothers and the Jewish American Princess. All the Jewish mothers, are concerned with their children meeting a “nice Jewish boy or girl”. Ruth, Jake’s mother, frequently pesters Jake about his love life, and even disowned her older son for marrying a Catholic girl—although she did attempt to repair the relationship. Ruth is a slightly subdued Jewish Mother because while she may be overbearing, she doesn’t appear to be habitually emotionally manipulative. Ali, Jake’s first date in the movie, is far more consistent as a Jewish American Princess; she is materialistic, selfish, and spoiled by her father. Her obsession with her physical attractiveness is apparent through her obsession with fitness tapes. Although the Jewish American Princess typically withholds sex, because Jake is her ideal mate, Ali is open with her insatiable sexual desire.
Jake doesn’t fall into one obvious Jewish stereotype, rather he has qualities of both the Nice Jewish Boy and the Jewish American Prince. His dedication and passion as a rabbi present him as admirable in many lights. Conversely, Jake is oblivious that at times unaware of others’ needs and arrogant. This synthesis of qualities makes him a more unique as a character. In the trend of modern interpretations of the Jewish man (typically a bachelor) as a multifaceted mixture of stereotypically Jewish traits from various trope character types—in a similar vein of Woody Allen in Annie Hall, albeit more indepthly explored in the latter.
Keeping the Faith presents a vision for a progressive form of Judaism which accepts multiculturalism and strays away from exclusivity. This vision is different from previous movies we have watched because it shows a progress of a community’s practice rather than the people itself. Although the movie isn’t very good, it tackles an interesting question in popular way.
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