Eyes Wide Open
Viewing Eyes Wide Open is like watching a wrecking ball swing towards a beloved old building from afar; you can see the destructive aftermath coming, but are powerless to stop it. It is a gorgeously filmed demolition, filled with exquisite tenderness and emotion, but a demolition nonetheless.
The story follows the love between two Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem. Aaron (an amazing acting job by Zohar Strauss) is a butcher, content living a simple life divided between his wife, children, job, and religious study. When Ezri (played by Ran Danker), a young gay man, is in need of a job, Aaron takes him in and teaches him the butcher trade. Soon it is Ezri who is teaching Aaron—opening his eyes up to fun, the pleasures of sex, freedom, and real human connection. Aaron awakens to a life outside of religion, and fights to reconcile it with everything he has been taught. He struggles to deny his passion for Ezri, seeing it at first as a challenge from God, but soon is overtaken by his desires and finds himself having an affair. Eventually, Aaron’s wife and the rest of the community find out, and the two are ostracized and attacked.
When Aaron’s rabbi visits him and asks him why he does not tell Ezri to leave he responds, “I feel alive. I need him. I was dead, and now I am alive.” It is a quiet but powerful moment, representative of the best of the film. Eyes Wide Open is masterful at silences, using as few words as possible to get its message across. Although the characters say little, we quickly become attached to them and their story. This is due mainly to superb acting by Strauss and Danker, who are well cast and very convincing. The audience genuinely feels their temptation and pain, and is invested in the survival of their relationship.
The message that it is impossible for homosexual relationships to exist within strict religious communities is not a new one. What is unique to the film is that the townspeople are not just against homosexuality. They interfere in each others’ lives and with heterosexual couples as well. Anything deemed immoral is grounds for personal confrontation. Thus, the film is not just looking at how religion restricts homosexual love, but how it restricts everyone. Aaron’s wife suffers as much from his infidelity as he does and the torment he receives from his community for his actions seems a small price to pay for a break from his monotonous, bland old life.
Eyes Wide Open does not offer any easy solutions for integrating religion with personal sexual orientation. But it does indicate that greater acceptance for diversity within religion would benefit everyone. Maybe, the film seems to say, there is some way to stop that wrecking ball before it strikes. Maybe the destruction is not as inevitable as we assume.