Kosher Movies: Proof of Life

Over the years as a rabbi, I have done some marital counseling. One standard piece of advice I give to couples of all ages is never go to bed angry, never leave a problem hanging and allow it to fester overnight. The consequences can be far-reaching and potentially devastating. My wife and I do not agree on everything, and we probably never will. But we both understand that it is foolish not to resolve a divisive issue as soon as possible. We have learned that there are three very important phrases in any marriage: “I’m sorry, Forgive me, and I love you.”

Proof of Life is about a marriage under stress. On the surface, it is an action film about a kidnapping in a South American country, which introduced me to something that, thank God, I know little about; namely, how a hostage release is negotiated with a kidnapper. It is scary, but fascinating. Based on a true story that appeared in Vanity Fair magazine, it recounts the tense ordeal of Alice Bowman and her husband Peter, who is kidnapped by guerilla rebels and taken into the country’s mountains for a number of months.

What makes the kidnapping especially worrisome is the conversation that Alice and Peter had the night before. Peter’s company is in financial straits, and yet Peter wants to stay in the country. Alice, who suffered a miscarriage when they were stationed in Africa, is emotionally spent and wants to return to the States. Peter, angry at his lot in life, tells her to take a break and leave the country by herself; he will stay here. It is an emotionally wrenching scene to watch as the fabric of a relationship between a loving couple, who were once devoted to one another, begins to unravel.

It is against this emotional background that the kidnapping takes place. What ups the ante is the fact that Peter’s company has no insurance coverage for kidnapping, placing his wife Alice in the unfortunate position of personally hiring a hostage negotiator to achieve her husband’s release, all the while knowing that Peter feels ambivalent about the marriage. After a false start, she engages Terry Thorne, an expert in kidnapping and ransom cases, to help her.

The beginnings of rapprochement and reconciliation occur when Peter asks his captors if he can take a picture of his wife out of his wallet to bring with him on his trek into the wilderness. It is a photo that both comforts and inspires him throughout his ordeal. Alice, too, begins to sense that her husband still loves her when a fellow prisoner who has escaped tells her of Peter’s devotion to her, and how it enabled him to survive pain and humiliation.

Peace between husband and wife is the bedrock of a Jewish home. So precious is spousal harmony that the Bible speaks of a ritual in which God’s holy name is erased in order to promote marital harmony and save a marriage in peril. Moreover, the classic dictum of “loving your neighbor as yourself” refers specifically, says the Talmud, to the relationship between husband and wife who are not only lovers but the best of friends.

Proof of Life on one level refers to the proof that the hostage negotiator wants before transferring money to kidnappers. On another level, it refers to the deep love that asserts itself when marriages are being tested. Resolving disputes, daily expressing love in word and deed to one’s spouse, is an affirmation that, in spite of adversity, love will endure. Love itself is proof of life.

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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