Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Lion and the Joseph Story

Today I watched a film called "Lion" which is based on a book I have not yet read entitled A Long Way Home. The film is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley. Saroo was born in India. He and his brother Guddu are poor and the two of them steal coal and work odd jobs to help out their mother (who is a laborer who gathers stones). One day Saroo follows Guddu to a job, becomes separated from him, endures a harrowing journey by train, and ends up lost. Eventually, he is adopted by a couple in Australia. The film tells the story of Saroo's separation from his birth family and homeland and his eventual return and reunion.

Over the course of the film, I realized that I was watching the story of Joseph brought to life. Joseph, too, was separated from his family. He endured evil and finds himself in a completely different culture, adopted/ raised by Potiphar and eventually Pharaoh. Just like Saroo wonders whether his mother is still alive and wants to comfort her, so too Joseph wonders whether his father is still alive and (eventually) wants to comfort him. The reunion scene between Saroo and his mother is similar to that described between Joseph and his father.

Below is a list of similarities between the two stories.

  • Both Saroo and Joseph are abandoned by a brother (in Saroo's case, it is not intentional)
  • Both Saroo and Joseph experience hardship and encounter evil (including in a sexual form). There are individuals who try to kidnap Saroo and others who want to use him for sex. Joseph is sold to a traveling band of individuals, was possibly intended for use as a catamite by Potiphar (see Rashi) and has to withstand sexual advances from Potiphar's wife. 
  • Both Saroo and Joseph encounter women who seem kind but cannot be trusted. (Saroo encounters Noor, who wants to groom him to be used sexually, and Joseph encounters Potiphar's wife)
  • Both Saroo and Joseph end up being "adopted" into/ raised in a different culture. (Saroo goes to Australia where he is adopted by loving white parents- so their skin, language and culture differs from his. Similarly, Joseph is "adopted" by Potiphar and then Pharoah- here too the language and culture differs).
  • Both Saroo and Joseph eventually experience living a privileged lifestyle.
  • Both Saroo and Joseph want to reunite with their families. (Granted, in Joseph's case it's unclear whether he initially wants to but in the end he does).
  • Both Saroo and Joseph express real concern over whether their parent is still alive. 
  • Both Saroo and Joseph have special markers that help prove they are who they say they are. Saroo remembers an incident where he got a scar because he was carrying a watermelon and was struck by an oncoming vehicle which he didn't see because he was carrying the watermelon. According to Midrash, Joseph sends agalot as a hint to his father that the last thing they learned together was eglah arufah.
  • Both Saroo and Joseph only reunite with their parents after an extensive period of time (over 20 years). 
I think it would be fascinating to use this film to teach the story of Joseph. I would want the students to first watch the film and document their feelings and reactions regarding the story itself, the protagonists, and the conflict experienced by the protagonists. Afterwards, I would want them to learn the story of Joseph, comparing and contrasting the two protagonists and noting their similarities and differences. (The differences are important as well! For example, Saroo expends a great deal of effort and energy trying to locate his birth mother. In contrast, it is never documented that Joseph reached out to his family. This leads to an obvious question the students need to consider: Why not?) 

What makes the film meaningful vis-a-vis the Joseph story is:
  • It shows that this type of story can happen (it's not "just" a Bible tale)
  • It helps give the students a context for the kind of pain, fear and emotions Joseph might have felt
  • It helps make the Joseph story more immediate and real for the students
  • It helps the students consider how they might have responded if they were in Saroo's/ Joseph's situation
It's always amazing to see biblical stories and themes reflected in contemporary films or television shows. There's a lot of Torah to be found on both the large and small screens.