Kosher Movies: Goldfinger

Preparing for a trip can be simple or stressful. My wife and I recently traveled to the States to visit our children and had to pack for a five-week stay in America. What to bring? My wife and I had different lists, but we both focused on being prepared for any eventuality. Both of us brought electronic readers in case we had any down time, for we did not want to waste time. I carried an IPad with the Schottenstein Talmud; my wife carried a Kindle and voraciously read historical fiction. We tried to follow the suggestion of the Rabbis in The Ethics of the Fathers, who say that a wise man is one who anticipates the future, who is not caught by surprise, who possesses what he needs to face uncertainty.

Anticipating the future and preparing for it is one aspect that is present in an obligatory scene of every James Bond movie since the series began in the 1960s, and Goldfinger is no exception. Early in the story, James meets a techie in a government installation specializing in weapons. In Goldfinger, the techie provides him with two tracking devices and a new car, a 1964 Aston Martin DB5 equipped with a sophisticated weapons system including machine guns, oil slick, smokescreen, passenger ejector seat, and tire slashers. It also possesses bulletproof glass and revolving license plates. How to use them is carefully explained, and it becomes clear to the audience that each of these devices will be used by Bond to carry out his mission.

The plot, such as it is, concerns Auric Goldfinger’s attempt to increase his wealth by making the entire gold reserve at Fort Knox radioactive so that his own stock of gold will be worth ten times its current value. If it sounds preposterous, it is. But this kind of over-the-top plot is typical of the Bond adventures, and it is part of their appeal.

Goldfinger was the first Bond film I saw. I remember the day vividly. I was a college student, recently introduced to the dark and emotionally intense movies of Ingmar Bergman, a renowned Swedish director. Early in the day I watched a triple feature of his black and white psychological studies in which dialogue is sparse and long close ups reveal simmering feelings beneath the surface. I left the theatre numb and passed by a cinema showing Goldfinger. It promised pure escapism and relief from the morbid aesthetic of Ingmar Bergman, and so I walked into the fantasy world of James Bond.

Another aspect of every James Bond film is its portrayal of the villain. He is never average. He has to be a match for Bond and pose a real existential threat to the world in general and to Bond in particular. In Goldfinger, the villain is Auric Goldfinger, but he is assisted by Oddjob, a muscular Asian. At one point, Goldfinger orders Oddjob to demonstrate his favorite weapon, his blade-rimmed bowler hat, which he uses to cut the head off a marble statue not far away. It is clear that Oddjob and James will meet again and that somehow Bond will emerge victorious from their contest.

In Jewish tradition, there is a similar pattern in the battles between good and evil. Moses’ arch enemy is Pharoah, not his underling. In the ethical literature there is a fight between the good and evil inclinations, and the Talmud observes that the more distinguished the righteous person, the more formidable is his evil inclination. It is an adversary not to be taken lightly if one truly wants to win the war. Goldfinger, an escapist entertainment, makes some cogent statements about the necessity of wisely preparing for the future and not underestimating your adversary.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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