Herbert J. Cohen

Kosher Movies: Greenland

Covid-19 changed the world in many ways. At a most basic level, I now began thinking about the safety of my family in the face of an unknown and dangerous virus. Over a year ago, my wife and I visited our daughter and her family in Boca Raton, intending to visit our other children in the Northeast after spending a week in Florida. However, it became dangerous to fly at that point, and our weeklong stay in Boca ended up being three months.

We greatly enjoyed spending time with family in Florida, but it was not an ordinary visit. We could not go shopping since my wife and I were in a high-risk group because of our age, nor could we attend synagogue. We observed people going out of their way to extend kindnesses to others. My daughter’s neighbors would go shopping for one another and run errands if needed. Many were doing favors for families that could not go out of the house. Crisis brought out the best in people. That is not always the case in Greenland, a survivalist thriller about a global apocalypse threatening Earth.

John Garrity, a structural engineer, lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his estranged wife, Allison, and their diabetic son, Nathan. Although emotionally distant from one another, they host a party with their neighbors to watch the passing of a recently discovered interstellar comet named Clarke. The people soon learn that Clarke is a giant cluster of objects that is anticipated to bombard Earth in the next couple of days, perhaps causing major damage to buildings and to humans as well.

John, at the supermarket doing last minute shopping for the party, suddenly receives an automated phone message letting him know that he and his family have been pre-selected for emergency sheltering. Within moments of returning home to the party, a comet fragment enters the earth’s atmosphere, causing shock waves throughout the area. Live TV news reports inform everyone that parts of Florida have been vaporized. Panic sets in frightening adults and children, and everyone runs home to be with their families.

Fearing imminent death, people compete for spots on rescue planes. Violent fights ensue, and people are killed as they vie to get a place on the government’s evacuation planes. Moreover, as worldwide panic sets in, mass looting occurs. In the melee, John is separated from Allison and Nathan, and attempts to call her fail. In this environment of crisis, some people take advantage of the vulnerabilities of the weak and unprotected.

John is fortunate to learn of planes in upstate New York that are bound for Greenland, a site distant from the trajectory of the comet, where a portion of society can be saved. John then tries to get his family on a plane to Greenland.

Throughout their adversity, John, Allison, and Nathan confront not only the bad in other people, but the good as well. Indeed, they are ultimately reunited because, in times of catastrophe, some people do respond altruistically with acts of kindness.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes about rediscovering the common good in times of crisis. He specifically references the Covid crisis, but his observations transcend that particular ordeal. He observes: “We have become a hyper-individualistic society, and we need to build into our culture a greater concern for the welfare of others. The heroic behavior, by doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers, people filling supermarket shelves, teachers who keep going using Skype or Zoom, and the more than half-a-million volunteers assisting the National Health Service, has all been about service to the common good. Rarely has it been clearer what we lose by focusing on the I and gain by caring about the we. When the pandemic is all over, society will emerge with a stronger sense of we. The one consolation of the present crisis is that it wasn’t war this time.”

In spite of the fear and lawlessness of many, the Garritys experience acts of kindness that enable them to reunite with the hope of building the world anew.

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
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