Main Themes in the Film Yentl Essay

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film "Yentl"
"Yentl" is a tale set in 19th century Poland, portraying a vivacious, independent little girl called Yentl from the Polish Jewish community, who was doggedly determined to follow her dreams despite knockbacks. Yentl obstinately wishes to pursue education in a community where academics, particularly Jewish religious learning, is strictly reserved for males only and is forbidden for girls. Posing as a youth, Yentl, however, flouts all societal rules and prohibitions with the strength of character that goes well with the personality of Barbra Streisand, who is the director, producer and co-writer of this remarkable movie. Although the film is essentially a musical movie, the theme of love is strong as well. Its execution and staging is indeed highly remarkable. Yentl also offers intricate details of the culture/society it is set in, of its characters' nature and of events which transpire in the course of the movie (Hobbs, n.d.).

The charming but compellingly abstruse tale written originally in the form of a play by Isaac Bashevis Singer doesn't easily reveal the meaning inherent in it. Towards the tale's ending, the sagacious narrator of the story indicates that the meddlesome gossipmongers of the village, keen on unearthing the facts behind Anshel's mysterious departure, need to eventually accept all fibs as the truth: After all, truth is itself usually obscured such that the more one seeks it, the more it eludes one. This is probably the author's unique way of warning his readers to simply take his story as it is and not attempt to dig deeper to discover the characters' hidden motivations. One can find the truth apparent in the title of the play. Singer declares he is relating the amazing tale of a young girl, Yentl (Yentl the Yeshiva Boy is the original title of the play), who is also a boy, owing to her commitment to the Lord's teachings -- she is an androgynous entity with a man's soul and a female's body. Yentl is herself perplexed with her internal urgings which lead her to walk about in boys' clothing, directly defying the Talmud whose words have formed the essence of Yentl's being (Hobbs, n.d.).

Identify the primary characters and their relationships

The movie features Barbara Streisand as the lead character, Yentl, from the play by Isaac Bashevis Singer, of a young Jewish girl from Poland who dons boys' clothing in order to receive education in a society where it is forbidden for girls. The start of the movie shows Yentl as a girl with long hair, residing in a picturesque little Jewish shtetl (town). The first scene portrays her contemplating purchasing a fish together with other womenfolk of the village. A cart bearing the Talmud's volumes (prohibited for women) passes by and when the fishmonger asks Yentl what she desires, she is shown looking wistfully at the volumes and not the fish (Maslin, 1983).

The above scene is not the only one where Yentl's frustration with her femininity and its associated restrictions is demonstrated; the movie depicts numerous similar scenes. Rebbe Mendel's (Yentl's dad) expression of confidence in her and his subsequent death sets the scene for the little girl's transformation. She clips her hair, wears baggy trousers and makes her way to the Yeshiva (Jewish seminary) where she convincingly passes off as a chirpy, smart and wonderful boy, going by the name of Anshel. Streisand as Yentl is able to bring an enchanting naturalness to her false persona, unafraid to look unspectacular or be outshined by her prettily portrayed costar, Amy Irving (as Hadass) (Maslin, 1983).

Irving is the embodiment of the era's feminine ideal, in stark contrast to rebellious Yentl. She plays Hadass, the decorous fiancee of Avigdor (played by Mandy Patinkin), Yentl's fellow pupil at Yeshiva whom she fancies. When Avigdor is disallowed to marry the doll-like Hadass (whose habit of serving his every need he admires), Yentl finds herself in a fix: she (as Anshel) is chosen as Hadass's bridegroom. While this appears like a tangle of sexual uncertainty, it isn't so. Rather, the movie has no sexual overtones whatsoever; males hold all the authority, females face oppression, and the movie is interspersed with several songs on unrequited lust (Maslin, 1983).

Gender Roles and Interactions

Yentl's middle sequences with Avigdor and Yentl's romance are the best, with the lead actors doing a very fine job indeed of enacting a few beautiful affecting moments. The movie blurs the gender line with characters developing almost-homosexual attractions despite the movie essentially maintaining a conventional heterosexual sensibility. Yentl yearns only for Avigdor, although being wed to another woman. This unconsummated marriage is actually comic. As Yentl reveals her true self to Avigdor, hoping to gain his love, she clearly proves herself as heterosexual (Rigney, 2003).

Although Yentl's characters don't traverse the heterosexual world, the movie eyes conventional society-established gender role appropriateness critically (Fernley &Maloof, 1985). Eventually, it affirms that Yentl's society disallows equal opportunities at enjoying happiness for every societal member, particularly its female members. Thus, the movie may be considered a potentially feminist and heterosexual one.

Social Interaction in and with the Community

Yentl defies social expectation. The movie portrays her reversing conventionally established gender roles and daringly traversing deep-seated Jewish religious boundaries, especially after her farce of a wedding to Hadass. Till this occurrence, all Yentl did with regard….....

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Garcia, M., Mulvagh, S., Merz, N. B., Buring, J., & Manson, J. (2016). Cardiovascular Disease in Women: Clinical Perspective. AHA Journals, 1273.

Hobbs, B. (n.d.). Yentl Movie Review Summary. Retrieved from All Readers:

Fernley, A &Maloof, P., (1985)."Yentl by Barbra Streisand".Film Quarterly. 38 (3): 39 -- 41. doi:10.1525/fq.1985.38.3.04a00070

Maslin, J. (1983, November 18). FILM: 'YENTL,' A DRAMA WITH DRAMA STREISAND. Retrieved from The New York Times:

Rigney, M., (2003)."Brandon Goes to Hollywood: Boys Don't Cry and the Transgender Body in Film." Film Criticism

Whitfield, S., (1999)."Yentl". Jewish Social Studies. 5 (1/2): 170 -- 171. doi:10.2979/jss.1998.5.1-2.154

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