One question that is asked at the Passover Seder is “Why is this night different from all other nights?” For Hannah that question is asked and answered during a Passover Seder when she is taken on a time traveling adventure back to a small town in Poland where her cousin Rivkah/Eva lives. After spending an insightful day with her cousin, she is caught off guard when the Nazi’s invade and take the townspeople to an SS Camp in the adaptation of “The Devil’s Arithmetic.”
“The Devil’s Arithmetic” is a powerful film, which is specifically aimed at a younger audience. However, people of all ages can appreciate the message of the film. The film centers on Hannah, a Jewish teenager who does not identify with her Jewish religion and culture. In fact, as the film opens, Hannah is about to get a “cool” tattoo, but is stopped when she receives a phone call from her parents about coming home in time for the Seder. Her lack-luster attitude towards her religion is very apparent at the Seder until she is sent to open the door for Eliyahu. As she opens the door, she is magically transported back in time and faces the horrors of the Holocaust camps alongside the younger version of her cousin Rivkah/Eva. She learns valuable lessons about life and love and the meaning of true sacrifice. She also learns to appreciate what it means to be Jewish and to be proud of her identity. After being magically returned in time, she has a meaningful conversation with the older version of Rivkah/Eva and then returns to the Seder where she is the loudest member of her family singing the Passover songs.
By focusing the story on a young teenaged girl, the producers (that include Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rodgers) hope to expose the horrors of the Holocaust to the next generation. The film is written in a smart manner in which individuals with little knowledge of the Jewish religion and culture will find it easy to understand what they see through the descriptions stated by various characters. Through the strong screenplay and strong performances of Kirsten Dunst (Hannah), Brittany Murphy (Rivkah), and Louise Fletcher (Eva) the viewer gains insight into the horrific ordeal and inhumane conditions that individuals of all ages went through in the Holocaust and the hope and strength that the survivors carried with them.
The film is available on DVD and is a perfect addition to any Holocaust theme unit in any junior high and/or high school programs.