The Devil's Arithmetic

  • 1999
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama, War

This powerful holocaust fantasy evokes the halcyon days of television drama, when producers aimed for a mix of social/historical relevance and assured dramatic writing. Socializing with her shallow girlfriends at a tatoo parlor, spoiled Jewish adolescent Hannah Stern (Kirsten Dunst) resents having to tear herself away for Seder with her folks. Though basically...read more

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Reviewed by Robert Pardi
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This powerful holocaust fantasy evokes the halcyon days of television drama, when producers aimed for a mix of social/historical relevance and assured dramatic writing. Socializing with her shallow girlfriends at a tatoo parlor, spoiled Jewish adolescent Hannah Stern (Kirsten Dunst) resents having to tear herself away for Seder with her folks. Though basically a decent girl, Passover means less to Hannah than the latest fashion trends. But she does feel a bond with her Aunt Eva (Louise Fletcher), who wishes Hannah felt more empathy for survivors of Hitler's persecution. Miraculously and horribly, Hannah finds herself transported back in time to the European home of her Aunt Mina (Lilo Baur) and Cousin Rivkah (Brittany Murphy) during WWII. She has stepped into the shoes of one of her dead relatives! Hannah's disbelief quickly gives way to terror as Nazis intrude on a neighbor's wedding ceremony and round up the celebrants. Hannah and the villagers are forced onto trucks bound for work camps, housed in disease-ridden quarters and fed barely enough to keep them alive. Hannah learns first-hand about the endurance of the Hannah into whose life she has stepped as she sees guards betray escapees and the camp's commandant order the execution of a mother and her newborn. Although Hannah's statements regarding her life in contemporary America are perceived as make-believe, her stories foment hope among the younger captives. When Rivkah grows sick from typhus, Hannah, who senses that Rivkah is somehow connected to Aunt Eva, commits the ultimate sacrifice and takes her place among those earmarked for execution. Can Hannah switch back to her modern-day life before the guards lead her and other victims into a gas chamber? Based on a popular young-adult book, this exemplary film puts youthful apathy under a microscope and fearlessly explores the dark side of human nature in order to explain to a self-absorbed teen — and the viewer — how the sacrifices of others must be cherished and remembered.

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  • Released: 1999
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This powerful holocaust fantasy evokes the halcyon days of television drama, when producers aimed for a mix of social/historical relevance and assured dramatic writing. Socializing with her shallow girlfriends at a tatoo parlor, spoiled Jewish adolescent H… (more)

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