Movie Review: Yentl Essay, Research Paper
Movie Review: Yentl
Everyone at one time or another has felt out of place. Feeling unsure
of one’s place in society is an experience that every young adult faces but
deals with differently. Some rebel while others comply with whatever has been
set out for them by society or their parents, or both. The role of the woman in
society is forever changing. Where women were once obligated to stay in the
home and dote on their husbands, they are now working in the same types of jobs
as their husbands. What was typically the male role has been blurred and
practically obliterated. Religious roles have followed society’s lead in their
evolution. For example, since its creation over five thousand years ago, the
Jewish religion has evolved in some movements to involve women and men equally
in ceremonies. The orthodox movement has always remained traditional in its
belief that women have their place in the home, cooking and raising children,
and serving their husbands. Education remains the man’s duty. The movie Yentl
starring Barbara Streisand, shows this traditional belief through its plot,
characterization, music, lights, camera angles, and symbolism.
Set in Eastern Europe in 1904, Yentl captures the essence of the Jewish
woman’s eternal struggle. It is the story of a young girl, in love with
learning but forbidden to do so by Jewish tradition. Upon her father’s death,
Yentl disguises herself as a boy to attend a yeshiva (religious school) and
continue her studies. She befriends Avigdor, a male scholar at the yeshiva,
and falls in love with him. Driven by her love for him, Yentl will do all that
she can to ensure that he is near her and that her secret is not revealed.
Yentl struggles with her secret until the day she can no longer remain silent.
She tells Avigdor what she has done, and of her love for him, but he cannot
accept a woman who refuses to act as a traditional woman should. So Yentl
departs for America in hope of a different mentality, but never forgetting her
love for Avigdor and all that she has learned.
Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s acclaimed short story, “Yentl, the
Yeshiva Boy,” the story is somewhat unrealistic but serves its purpose in
proving a point; the point being that women have always been just as capable as
men in studying and education, and that a person’s role should not be defined
for them. It describes a woman’s search for freedom and her discovery not only
of love but of herself. Yentl, or Anshel as she is known throughout most of the
film, is played by Barbara Streisand who also directed, produced, and co-wrote
this film. She captures the character beautifully, the expression in her eyes
and voice displaying clearly the feelings of a woman struggling for knowledge
and love but torn between her desire to learn and the tradition of her religion.
When Avigdor says “What could she possibly be thinking?” the mentality of the
Jewish Orthodox man is revealed completely: a woman exists but to serve a man.
Yentl’s inner conflicts and thoughts are revealed through the music she
sings. It sets the mood and exposes Yentl’s feelings of despair. If it were
not for the lyrics of her songs, the audience would not be aware of Yentl’s
inner struggle. She tells us that she doesn’t know if she likes the way that
she feels – in love with Avigdor but forced to remain silent, she tells us of
her desire to please her father even though he is dead, and she tells us of her
plans to uncover her secret to Avigdor. The music that Barbara Streisand sings,
as well as the background music, helps to reveal feelings and mood as well as
the passage of time.
The mood and the passage of time are also indicated by the lighting.
When Yentl is accepted as a student at the yeshiva (a thing forbidden to women),
light streams in the window as if to show hope and happiness for Yentl. When
Yentl first disguises herself as a male, she sings her thoughts of fear, a
feeling also displayed by the candle which is lit and the light of which,
reflected on her face, shows her sadness. Often, the camera angle looks
downward on Yentl, perhaps to show that her efforts may seem large in her life,
but in the large picture of the Jewish religion, she will not be making large
changes. It may also be that this camera angle displays the assumed
insignificance of a woman, or her feelings of insignificance. The lighting, as
well as the camera angles contribute to the theme and mood of the film.
Symbolism plays a large role in the portrayal of theme in Yentl. A bird
soaring through the sky is frequently shown throughout the film. This
symbolizes Yentl’s struggle and eventual conquering of her feats. She, like the
bird, is able to soar – through the prejudices of her traditions and through the
world of knowledge for which she so longs. She displays this thought in the
last line of the movie when she sings “Papa watch me fly.” As well, when Yentl
transforms herself into Anshel, the boy, she looks at herself in a cracked
mirror and cuts her hair. This displays her uncertainty of herself and her
place in Jewish society, and the cutting of her hair symbolizes her
transformation and the beginning of a new life for her. Symbolism throughout
the film, contributes to the film’s theme of self-discovery and role reversal.
The plot, characterization, lighting, camera angles, and symbolism
reveal thoroughly the plot of this highly thought-evoking film. The plot mainly
contributes to proving that a woman’s place is not solely in the home. That
“story books for women, sacred books for men”, as the bookseller says at the
beginning of the story, is not an accurate assessment of a woman’s intellectual
capabilities. Because of Barbara Streisand’s fabulous and complete
characterization of Yentl, this movie comes to life and touches the hearts of