Adam Resurrected is an incredibly bizarre yet fascinating film about Holocaust survivors and the emotional pain that haunts their lives, years later. While it is by no means a great film, its strength lies in its ability to tell an old story in a fresh and intriguing way.
Adam Stein, played with passion by Jeff Goldblum, is an ex-circus performer, once “the funniest man in Germany”, who put on a celebrated vaudevillian act in the 1930s showcasing his many talents. When Hitler comes to power, Stein is taken off the stage and thrown into a concentration camp, where his notorious act forces him to take on a deeply disturbing role.
We first meet Stein in the 1960s now an old man, as he is being brought in handcuffs to an insane asylum for Holocaust survivors located in the middle of the Israeli desert. Stein is a repeat visitor to the institute and is loved by its patients and staff alike, particular the night nurse, Gina Grey (Ayelet Zurer), with whom he has a perverse sexual relationship. It is initially unclear what Stein is doing in the mental hospital as he appears to be a brilliant, well-adjusted albeit somewhat quirky man. There is definitely a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest feel to the film’s early scenes. However, through the use of flashbacks documenting his dark days in the concentration camp we come to realise how truly disturbed Adam is.
Goldblum plays Adam Stein with his usual charisma. Whether he is dancing with the inmates, swigging hidden liquor, or spouting out clever bursts of dialogue it’s incredibly hard not to like him. Coupled with lighter scenes there is also some very sober, dark material here. Aside from his poor German accent (which takes some getting used to) Goldblum is fantastic in this role. Played by a less skilled actor, Adam Stein could have been a farcical character and considering how weird some of the scenes in this film are, Goldblum’s ability to make Stein into a real person really holds the film together.
The most compelling hook of Adam Resurrected is the story of what happened during Stein’s year long stint in the concentration camp. Commandant Klein, one of the Nazi officers, (Willem Dafoe, in a perfect casting choice) recognizes Adam as a clown and he offers to spare his life if he will keep him entertained by pretending to be his dog. Adam is then forced to bark and whine and crawl around on all fours for Klein’s amusement. These scenes are truly gut-wrenching and disturbing to watch, particularly when Adam is forced to fight with a German Sheppard for the last pieces of gristle on a chewed up lamb shank. The truly heartbreaking part of this bizarre charade is that while Adam is being led around by a leash, his wife and daughters are being marched into the gas chamber and despite his pleading there is nothing he can do to stop it.
This trauma is what haunts Stein and when a young boy, who thinks he is a dog, is brought to the institute, Adam decides to try and help him. It is through his work with the young boy that Stein himself is able to let go of the past.
Stated plainly, the premise for Adam Resurrected seems completely ridiculous, but the sober and serious tone set by director Paul Schrader and the excellent acting on display manages to keep the film from being laughable. You’re more likely to cry or wretch than scoff at some of the strangest scenes.
Where Adam Resurrected does fall of the track however, is when it veers into the realm of surrealism. Adam is often associated with God and he helps this comparison along by performing small miracles. He has the ability to read minds, has a host of magic tricks up his sleeve, but most perplexing is his ability to spontaneously afflict himself with diseases and wounds. There are more than a handful of scenes where Goldblum’s body is covered in blood that spouts from wounds that appear without cause. He also dies and resurrects himself (hence the title) and has an argument with a burning bush. While all of this makes for some shocking visuals, more often than not it is just perplexing and detracts from the real emotional meat of the realistic scenes. By the time the final act rolls around, a Halloween costume party, where a demented Goldblum leers around in full clown makeup, the movie get dangerously close to being ridiculous.
Despite some of its weirder elements, Adam Resurrected is an emotionally-charged film that will stick with you long after the end credits roll. Somehow the film manages to pull off a delicate balancing act between bizarre and brilliant and the end result is a quality art-house film that should please fans of Jeff Goldblum and those intrigued by the horrors of the Holocaust.
Adam Resurrected was recently screened at the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival. The theatrical realease date is set for 2008. Date to be announced.