Mamet's Homicide has themes of Purim story

PURIM is not a festival that one would expect to find in the cinema, but it pops up in several films. Rosina da Silva (Minnie Driver) performs as Queen Esther for her Gentile lover in UK film The Governess (to be featured in a future column).

The Hebrew Hammer's main characters are called Mordechai and Esther while For Your Consideration features a film within a film entitled Coming Home for Purim.

Most surprisingly, though, a full photocopied page from the Book of Esther fills the screen in extreme close-up in Homicide, developing the themes of being a Jew in a Gentile culture, as well as those of mimicry/hiding/deception and revelation that are central to understanding both the Purim story and the film.

Homicide, directed in 1991 by David Mamet, revolves around Robert (Bobby) Gold (Joe Mantegna), a highly decorated (22 citations for valour) homicide police detective in New York City.

He is an expert in the art of hostage negotiation, earning him the label 'the orator', emphasising his intellectual and verbal qualities.

But no matter how hard he tries to fit in with his fellow cops, he is constantly reminded of his Jewishness.

Early in the film a black superior officer calls him a 'kike'. As Gold admits: "They said . . . I was a p**** all my life. They said I was a p****, because I was a Jew. Honour cops, they'd say, send a Jew, might as well send a broad on the job, send a broad through the door . . . all my goddamned life, and I listened to it . . . uh-huh? I was the donkey . . . I was the clown." .

"To the non-cops he's a cop, but to the cops he's a Jew," explained Mamet.

In order to fit in Gold desires to outperform, to become tougher in the eyes of his fellow cops. Investigating what ostensibly seems to be a racist murder of an elderly Jewess, Gold is gradually drawn into a mysterious covert conflict between neo-Nazis and Israeli secret agents.

But the tough Israelis only serve to underscore Gold's Diaspora weakness.

Their leader, Benjamin (Adolph Mall), challenges him: "Are you a Jew, Mr Gold? Then be a Jew!" Gold eventually mimics toughness, rejecting the attire of his colleagues that he is wearing at the beginning of the film, to increasingly resemble that of the Israelis: leather jacket and dark shirt. And at their prompting, he blows up a print shop that appears to be a neo-Nazi front.

But Gold is not able to pass as tough. He refuses to pass the Israelis confidential police information, as it conflicts with his ethical duties as a cop, meaning he does not belong with them either, and hence retains his marginalised Diaspora status.

As a result, the Israelis blackmail Gold, double-crossing him, despite his compliance.

By the end of the film, having shed his tough uniform and dressed in jeans and a letterman's jacket, Gold is neither clothed in the garb of a cop nor that of a tough Israeli, unsure as to what his status is.

Like all Mamet's films, there is a story within a story and nothing appears quite what it is, emphasising the idea of disguise - so key to Purim.

© 2012 Jewish Telegraph