Fill the Void REVIEW
Fill the Void is one of many movies that you can find about how people go about selecting a partner in life. I suppose the ways that it is done and the reasons it is done for are endless in human history or maybe it all comes down to a few primary colors being mixed in different ways. “Almost everybody in the world gets married,” the stage manager in Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town says “—you know what I mean? In our town there aren’t hardly any exceptions. Most everybody in the world climbs into their graves married.”
He leaves you wondering if any one of the millions of marriages he has seen is ever anything special.
And yet movies about the subject still intrigue us. We are curious about how the process works or doesn’t work in other people’s lives. This particular movie tells the story in a unique cultural context, the orthodox Jewish community of Tel Aviv. There is one single moment early in the film where you hear some sort of techno music blaring out in the street and the family has the windows closed to make that outside secular world inaudible and you just never hear or see anything of it for the rest of the film. This is a film about marriage in one family whose faith is never in conflict with some secular alternative. The window has closed on the fundamental beliefs underlying the decisions, though the decisions still are not easy.
The basic plot goes something like this; a Jewish man and his wife are pregnant. She goes into labor and delivers the child but dies. The husband and his infant son eventually begin considering remarrying but the only prospect is a widow in Belgium. The child’s grandmother is heartbroken to think that she will be separated from her grandson and suggests the possibility of a marriage between her widowed son-in-law and the dead wife’s younger sister. It is a world of arranged marriages but not forced marriages and the sister, Shira, and her brother-in-law, Yochay have to go through a process of deciding if this would be a good idea for them or a bad idea.
Shira is caught between her desire to play her role as a dutiful daughter, sister, and aunt while considering her own romantic feelings or lack of feelings as an eighteen year old woman about to enter marriage to some arranged partner herself. She knows her brother-in-law is a good man. She does not really know anything about the potential husband whose family has expressed interest in her from a distance. She has seen the young man in a grocery store secretly that is about it. She is ambivalent about marrying an older man and the husband of her sister but there is just so much that she does not know about her option or about Yochay outside of what her mother and father might prefer.
Yochay tries to ask her how she feels and she can only respond by articulating what she thinks she should do. “Stop disappearing,” he says. Which is sort of ironic given the way that this community tends to “disappear” women from a lot of important transactions of this sort. Though Shira is told that her opinion matters and is important, she cannot fail to get the message that her feelings should not matter. It is no wonder that she disappears. “How can we speak face to face until we have faces?” C.S. Lewis once asked.
Eventually, the rabbi is consulted about the matter. “How does the girl feel about this match?” he asks her father. Shira speaks up for herself (imagine!) and answers.
“It is not a matter of feelings.”
“It is only a matter of feelings,” the rabbi responds.
“A deed must be done and I want to do it to everyone’s satisfaction,” Shira tells him, thinking that is what she is supposed to say.
The Rabbi shakes his head and repeats her name several times and then issues his pronouncement: “Rabbi Nachman of Breslev says that blessed is he who says one word of truth to the Almighty his entire life.”
I don’t want to give away the ending because it is a movie that different people will react to in different ways. What Yochay decides, what Shira decides, and whether their decisions will work out in the end all are left to the viewer’s imagination. What cannot be avoided when all is said and done is the need in these complicated emotional cases of pairing for honesty, for self understanding, and for time.
“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?” Lao Tse says in the Dao Te Ching, “Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”
I know people who could not do exactly that.
It is a hard long lesson to have to learn.
Question for Comment: When you consider the pairings you have made in life and you reflect upon whether or not they were good ones or poor ones, what is it that you think was the cause of the end result? Sufficient or insufficient knowledge of yourself, sufficient or insufficient knowledge of the partner? Or just sufficient or insufficient time?