Kosher Movies: Venom

Each spring, Jews celebrate the holiday of Purim, which commemorates the victory of the Jews over their archenemy, Haman. The two heroes of the story are Mordechai and Esther who turn the tables on those who wanted to physically exterminate the Jewish people.

The book that recounts this narrative is the Megilla, part of the Biblical canon, which strangely does not mention the name of God. The salvation comes from above, but God is hidden, behind the scenes as it were. Since God is hidden, the custom has developed of wearing masks at the festive meal that takes place on the afternoon of the holiday.

What does the mask symbolize? One sage suggests that the mask represents God working in secret. He is there but we cannot see him. He is a force for good but we cannot readily apprehend him. This essentially is the persona of Eddie Brock in Venom. He is a superhero who does good while donning a disguise, a mask of sorts.

Some backstory is in order. The film begins as a space shuttle from the Life Foundation crash-lands in East Malaysia. There is only one survivor and it appears that an alien life form has latched onto him, thus hosting this foreign entity known as the symbiote.

The story now moves to San Francisco where we meet Eddie Brock, Eddie’s fiancé Anne, and the Life Foundation CEO Carlton Drake. Eddie has a successful investigative TV news program, and his boss asks him to interview Drake. Eddie asks Drake unscripted questions. The result: the interview ends badly with Eddie being fired.

Six months later, Drake is busy at work performing human trials on homeless people with his symbiote samples, resulting in a number of deaths. But Drake is undeterred, vowing to press on with his research which he feels will save mankind in the future.

Although Eddie is without a job, he still is respected as an investigative journalist. This prompts Dr. Dora Skirth, a Life Foundation scientist, to approach Eddie for help in exposing Drake’s unethical science research, fearing that Drake has lost all moral moorings. Eddie agrees to help her.

Skirth sneaks Eddie into the Life Foundation’s headquarters where he sees horrific displays of the symbiote’s victims, one of which attacks Eddie. Once out of the headquarters, Eddie senses that he now has enhanced strength and flexibility. After exhibiting some bizarre symptoms, he concludes that the alien, named Venom, has somehow penetrated his body and is influencing his behavior. Eddie’s challenge is to take this malevolent force within him and channel it for good. In a sense, Eddie Brock becomes two entities: the real Eddie and the Eddie who wears a mask, hiding the identity of Venom who now resides within his body.

Rabbi Philip Moskowitz makes some insightful comments about what it means to wear a mask. Wearing a mask obscures who we are. Sometimes that is good and sometimes not. He cites the character of Augie Pullman in the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio, a fictional story about a disfigured boy and with genetic abnormalities. His face frightens people who do not know him, but once they get to interact normally with him, they see all his good qualities.

For Augie, his favorite holiday is Halloween: “For me, Halloween is the best holiday in the world. I get to dress up in a costume. I get to wear a mask. I get to go around like every other kid with a mask and nobody thinks I look weird. Nobody takes a second look. Nobody notices me. Nobody knows me.”

Venom, the superhero hiding inside Eddie, will be able to do much good in the world as long as Eddie is wearing his mask, his outward face to the public. For the superhero to be accepted, he must always wear a mask, for that is a requirement to be successful in his new role. Venom will be inside him, but Eddie will be able to show his face to the world and be the hidden hero.

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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