The Chosen (1981) is an excellent film adaptation of the Chaim Potok novel of the same name. It is an account of two Jewish boys growing up in New York during WWII up to the founding of the State of Israel. It stars Maximilian Schnell, Rod Steiger, Robby Benson, and Barry Miller. It won awards at both the Montreal and Paris Film Festivals.
The Chosen is a quiet little film that explores some key tensions in Jewish life in America. It addresses the tension between the expressions of Judaism that seek absolute fidelity to the past and the expressions of Judaism that seek to remain Jewish while engaging with modernity. It explores the tension between generations of a family, and the meanings that tension has for each generation. The film is deeply rooted in time and place: it was shot in Brooklyn, and it explores a particular moment in Jewish history.
I have seen comments to the effect that The Chosen is not a completely accurate picture of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) orthodoxy. I find that it is a less sensational picture than many other more recent films have depicted. The viewer might want to keep in mind that the film was made almost 30 years ago, and that both the communities shown in the film and the broader Jewish world have changed since then. So don’t watch it and think it’s all there is to know about Haredi life. On the other hand, the tensions portrayed are accurate and as vital today as they were then.
Unfortunately, at this writing, The Chosen is out of print in DVD, but it is available for rental from many sources. A must-see!