There are a growing number of films choosing to explore the world of the contemporary Hasidic Jewish community. The themes vary from critical to sympathetic always adding a little bit of humor to the mix; in order to bring a light-tone to the most sincere and respected of strict traditional values.
FilmmakerShawn Snyder directs and co-writes with Jason Begue to address the puzzling realities and curiosities of death and decay with regard to the human body in his latest comedic feature narrative TO DUST. Snyder says, "How morbid it is to stare that biological truth in its face, but spiritual in its own right it might be, if done badly and honestly."
Snyder directs actors Geza Rohrig (Shmuel) and Matthew Broderick (Albert) in a narrative that is stranger than fiction. I had to process the film for a while before I could comment. In a quirky way but not really funny/hilarious, the seriousness of wondering what happens to the human body after death is a relatable topic. The unique curiosity of both Jew and Gentile allowed for a storyline worth exploring. Snyder does a good job creating a strange platform to ask sincere questions.
Shmuel, a Hasidic leader in the synagogue of liturgical music and prayer is deeply saddened by his wife (Rivkah) untimely death. Not knowing what will happen to her body when she is laid in the earth to rest causes him undue stress causing nightmares of her body decomposing. Questions begin to arise as Shmuel tries to figure out how Rivkah's body will decompose. Shmuel can not ask for help within his religious community to his questions. To admit this within the Hasidic community could derail his leadership role in the synagogue but his religious faith brings him no comfort.
Against the Hasidic norms to seek guidance from outside the community but convinced that Rivkah's soul will suffer until her body returns to dust, Shmuel seeks out a local community college Biology professor, Albert, to help him understand the physical processes of her decay. Once Shmuel has lured Albert into his plight the two will stop at nothing to satisfy their curiosity.
Their unscientific forensic research, secrecy, experiments that begin with a pig all helped to intensify their discovery regarding the process of decay with Rivkah's corpse as it turns to dust and Shmuel finds comfort.
Snyder concludes, "Tonally, TO DUST is melancholy, macabre and grotesque, but that picks up where a B-Horror film or barroom joke might leave off - 'So, a Hasid and Biology Professor rob a grave!'.