Powerful School Ties considers the cruelties of anti-SemitismSchool Ties
Directed by Robert Mandel.
Written by Dick Wolf
and Daryl Ponicsan.
Starring Brendan Fraser.
By Joshua Andresen
School Ties is an amazing film dealing with prejudice. The acting is convincing, the story is feasible, and the moral is well presented. Its setting is similar to that of Dead Poets' Society, and its substance is just as powerful. This is a "must see" for anyone who has ever felt oppressed by a majority opinion.
The movie is set in 1955 at St. Matthew's, a small, elite prep school in Massachusetts. David Greene (Brendan Fraser) is recruited from a small town in Pennsylvania to play football for St. Matthew's team. David fits in and forms friendships with the boys there in a perfectly normal manner. He even organizes a hack on one of the teachers with them.
Conflicts arise when David's group of friends finds out he is Jewish. David had kept the information a secret in order to fit in better with everyone. His classmates try to reconcile their anti-Semitic upbringings with the reality of David, the first Jew they have actually known.
The film considers the reactions of David's classmates and teachers, as well as the consequences of David's denial of his heritage. David is willing to do anything to fit in with the group, even though it compromises his upbringing. He hides his Jewishness because he knows the reaction it will provoke in his well-off classmates. Yet he still sneaks off in the middle of the night to celebrate the Jewish holidays. In the end, David realizes that it is not worth losing one's identity in order to fit into a group. The film deals with this conflict intelligently and thoughtfully.
School Ties spends much more time, however, examining attitudes of anti-Semitism. Not since Gentleman's Agreement (Best Picture Academy Award, 1947) has anti-Semitism been as seriously considered in film. School Ties is set in 1955, the middle of the McCarthy era, when anti-Semitism was rampant. Each of David's classmates reacts differently to the realization that they have made friends with a Jew. These reactions vary from cautious acceptance to outright condemnation. On one hand, David's roommate is at first shocked and disgusted to be living with a Jew, but eventually comes around and openly supports David, admitting his anti-Semitic tendencies. Another of David's classmates, however, blatantly and continuously proclaims that Jews are dirty, greedy, and worthless.
These reactions can be extrapolated to many types of situations. School Ties demonstrate the irrationality of prejudice in any form. Prejudice is based on what is unknown or badly understood, and the movie stresses that we need not be afraid of the unknown. School Ties makes us all reconsider any prejudices we have, but does not do it in a demeaning way. It merely asks us to consider how prejudice comes about.
Overall, this is an impeccable film. Aside from the football sequences, which could have been done much better, this film is perfectly made, from the cinematography to the original score. It properly balances a humorous and a serious side to yield a final product that is as meaningful as it is enjoyable to watch.