Netflix’s Heretics and Their Descent into the Postmodern Abyss

August 11, 2020 | Roy Pinchot
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In the past year, Netflix has brought its subscribers the film The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch and the series Unorthodox, each of which tells the story of a young Jew who find his or her way out of an insular Orthodox community. Roy Pinchot, reviewing both, writes:

Both Unorthodox and The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch present the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community as an exotic, picturesque, and quasi-primitive society, out of touch with modern values and modern culture. [The two productions] portray only the weaknesses of this society—never attempting to show its strengths. . . . These stories attack the ultra-Orthodox community through ridicule and parody of the parents, rabbis, and adherents, all of whom are turned into a source of laughter. They possess little wisdom, and even less virtue, which gives the writer and director license to extricate the hero or heroine from this outdated prison and bring him and her to the delights of postmodern virtues and morals.

What are the idealized postmodern virtues and morals of these films, and who is the new Moses who leads the hero or heroine into the promised land? After the audience sees how controlling these religious societies are, and how they narrow the expectations of the adherents and surround them with rules, laws, and authority figures, the hero or heroine meets a representative of the outside modern world, whose life appears to be enlightened and superior. This angel of opportunity leads our protagonist out of the community and toward the promise of personal fulfillment. In this outside world, the main character undergoes a detoxing process that involves sexual activity as an expression of his or her new “freedom.”

Toward the end of Motti’s awakening, he visits a dying friend and fortuneteller, who helps him reframe his recent rejection of family, friends, and religion: “Everything is now possible,” he explains. There are no limits. In Habits of the Heart, the author Robert Bellah notes that “Progress, modernity’s master idea, seems less compelling when it appears that it may be progress into the abyss.” At the end of the movie, Motti sits on a park bench alone, having given up everything that had meaning in his life. He does not realize that a future without limits may mean descent into the abyss.

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