Passover is a complicated holiday. On the one hand, it commemorates the epic tail of the Exodus out of Egypt, complete with plagues and shape-shifting and peculiar weather patterns. On the other, it forces a lot of secular individuals to sit through a ton of Hebrew prayer for one reason, tradition. Yet, there really is so much to this holiday that many consider to be nothing more an excuse to drink way too much wine and complain about matzo.
Rather than explain the merit behind the four questions or divulge the secrets behind gefilte fish, the best way to learn about Passover might just be through its various depictions in film and on TV from over the years. Here are some of our personal favorite Passover-themed movies and TV shows for you to watch after next month's Seder.
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The Ten Commandments
Years before Charlton Heston jumped off the deep end, he was undoubtedly the biggest name in Hollywood and his starring role as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 film The Ten Commandments might just be Heston at the height of his power. At 220 minutes, The Ten Commandments established most of the visual story lines we now associate with the Exodus story, i.e. the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the burning bush. The Ten Commandments established the meaning of the term "biblical epic," and everything about it is impressive, from the fact that it was filmed on location in the Sinai Peninsula to the mind-blowing-for-1956 special effects.
"A Rugrats Passover"
If you were a child any time after 1992, you undoubtedly think of Rugrats when you hear Passover. In what was the highest rated single TV episode in Nickelodeon history, "A Rugrats Passover" centers around Grandpa Boris telling the Exodus story to the kids as an increasing number of characters get stranded in the attic during the family Seder. Tommy, of course, plays the role of Moses, while Angelica fittingly acts as Pharaoh in the dramatic, and perfectly Nicktoon-ish, retelling of the tale.
Curb Your Enthusiasm - "The Seder"
To absolutely no one's surprise, Larry David took the opportunity to incorporate a whole new set of elements into his Passover themed "The Seder" episode from 2005. Bringing together newspaper theft, sex offenders, and accusations of kids cheating in their search for the afikoman, this episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm gives everyone a taste of the awkwardness and discomfort found at actual Seders held around the world each year.
Crimes & Misdemeanors
Here's the IMDB summary of Woody Allen's 1989 film, Crimes & Misdemeanors: "An ophthalmologist's mistress threatens to reveal their affair to his wife, while a married documentary filmmaker is infatuated by another woman." In other words, this might be the most Woody Allen-y movie that Woody Allen's ever made. Among the story's many digressions is a Seder flashback experienced by the main character, played by Martin Landau. The scene, in which his whole family argues around the Seder table, includes exchanges of doubt, lots of infighting and, of course, contentious conversations about the Holocaust. Sound familiar?
High Maintenance - "Elijah"
High Maintenance, the HBO show that documents the lives touched by a fictional New York City pot delivery guy, explores themes of adulthood, death and friendship, all while maintaining a pretty solid high. No episode is more memorable than "Elijah," which tells the story of a super-dysfunctional Jewish family attempting to complete a Seder without anyone suffering permanent physical or emotional damage. There's a bickering mother-in-law, accidental usage of bacon fat, and an instance of a young boy walking in on a live demonstration of the birds and the bees. Maybe it's not wholesome fun for the whole family, but it will definitely be a great way to digest all of the brisket you've just demolished.
Exodus: Gods & Kings
Imagine, if you will, that The Ten Commandments was made recently with all of the special effects wizardry available to today's blockbuster filmmakers. This is undoubtedly what Ridley Scott, director of the Christian Bale-starring Exodus: Gods & Kings, pondered when he created a movie that feels underserved by the word "epic." Although the film took quite a bit of flack for whitewashing its cast, this completely unhinged and at times bat-shit crazy marathon of a movie is the perfect thing to get the family to sit down for after dinner to truly consider, "why is tonight different than all other nights?"
Saturday Night Live - "Elijah the Prophet at a Seder"
In 1982, Jerry Seinfeld played Elijah the Prophet in a Saturday Night Live sketch entitled, "Elijah the Prophet at a Seder." In it, Adam Sandler complains of hunger, Kevin Nealon berates his fictional children and Mike Myers plays an impatient grandpa set on leading his family in prayer. Also, Phil Hartman is Jesus. If only all of our Seders could be this awesome.