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You don’t mess with the Zohan 2


On men & war

Fighting terrorism for a living can be tiring. A man risks his life daily; he believes his enemies must be killed & his friends saved; & he must believe, perhaps, that success is within reach. Our comedy must make Zohan seem invincible, so that we may laugh. But what is courage without danger? This god-like Zohan finds his immortality wearying, because it does him no good. He catches terrorists; his government releases them; war seems never-ending. To make him happy, the comic poet must show the way to peace.

The comic conceit likens exchanging prisoners to trading players: Politics is a sport, different teams compete. His mother, resigned, says: It’s been going on for two thousand years, it cannot be much longer now. His father, however, is serious, & boasts of Israel’s great wars. The son has had enough of stories of this meager glory accrued to his elders. What is it worth? The last great war had been fought before he was born; no great wars seem to be left to fight.

Your enemies are those who do you harm. The great compete among themselves: Superior to the many, they cannot allow the many to judge worth. Our warriors play ping-pong with a grenade; then the bad guy sets a piranha to his carotid, to no avail, which Zohan then drops in his trunks; he feels no pain, he says. Fearlessness, moderation respecting pain, & endurance make men.

The father & the military advocate, used to fight, & now lead wars. But their Achilles is Zohan. Without him, they cannot conquer their enemy. Anyway, the old men are largely absent & therefore silent. But they are the city insofar as anyone can remember. The old may not act, but they can speak: Their most important speeches are the laws.

The Israeli youth are having fun on the beach. They have Americanized. Israel is half war & half America – one side dark, the other sunny. To understand what we see, we must know that this is a comedy: We see even the serious in the light of the playful. The movie opens with Zohan on the beach, surrounded – or rather followed – by his admirers, playing ball, dancing, & drinking soft drinks. This is the private life. He enjoys the pleasures of the body, particularly sex, as we learn. Beautiful Zohan appears self-contained, the object of everyone’s adoration. He gives the young a feeling of power: After defeating them at tug-o-war by himself, he drags in a reluctant & innocent water buffalo as well – then one of his followers shouts at the bull, from the edge of the sandpit: You don’t mess with the Zohan. For what sins?