Appearing in his final movie before his death in 2021, Ed Asner plays a Holocaust survivor in the poignant drama Tiger Within, which opens in US theaters on July 7.
He portrays Samuel, a frail and lonely widower who lives alone in Los Angeles. He befriends Casey (Margot Josefsohn), a coarse but attractive down-and-out young woman from Ohio who was expelled from high school recently. The pair form an unlikely bond which turns into an improbable friendship.
The film, directed by Rafal Zielinski, is gritty and touching and takes place over a period of about a year, with Asner and Josefsohn delivering top-notch performances.
Casey is a punk who cares about nothing and is drifting aimlessly. She barely gets along with her single mother, and is eager to leave town. She is supposed to meet her estranged and remarried father at the train station in Los Angeles, but she has second thoughts and misses the rendezvous.
Samuel, who bears a passing resemblance to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, finds her sleeping next to a tombstone in a Jewish cemetery, where his late wife is buried. Feeling sorry for Casey, he treats her to a meal in a restaurant, despite having noticed the hand-drawn white swastika on her knapsack.
It draws the ire of two elderly Jewish men, but Samuel seems not to be too perturbed about it. To Casey, the swastika is a symbol of defiance. But after she learns that Samuel was a victim of the Holocaust, she spews out a venomous antisemitic diatribe that sound like a page out of a Holocaust denier’s rant. “Jews made it up, they’re liars,” she says, telling Samuel she gleaned this misinformation from her mother.
Taken aback by her mindless outburst, Samuel reminds Casey that his ordeal during the war makes a mockery of her Holocaust denial claims.
Casey leaves Samuel’s apartment, and three months elapse, during which time she earns a living as a masseuse in a seedy motel. By chance, she encounters Samuel again after two thieves rob him in broad daylight on a street. They connect once again, and Samuel buys her a Christmas gift.
Casey visits her father, but his wife dislikes her with a passion. “She’s trash,” she exclaims, insisting that Casey must leave their home.
These dramatic scenes unfold in seamless fashion, endowing the film with a credible sheen.
In desperation, Casey returns to Samuel’s apartment, and he calms her down and invites her to stay. “We could be family to each other,” he says. Casey assumes he’s a dirty old man, but she is mistaken. Chastened by her wrongful assumption, she tries to make amends.
As Samuel and Casey grow closer, he confides in her. If he could learn to forgive her, a person who adopted the swastika as a personal emblem, he might be able to go one step further and stop hating a world that tolerated the deaths of six million Jews during the Holocaust.
The film takes an optimistic turn after Casey goes back to school and meets Tony (Diego Josef), a student in her class. He thinks she is “weird and cute.” She likes his sincerity and earnestness.
A tragic event subsequently rattles Casey, but she carries on like a trooper. In Tiger Within, hope springs eternal, notwithstanding the evil that lurks in the hearts and minds of some people.