Fans of The Walking Dead were on the edge of their seats waiting for the premiere of last week’s Fear the Walking Dead on AMC. I previously highlighted The Walking Dead on the Pop Elul Project last year while binge-watching the show on Netflix. I am all caught up and the show continues to be a cable hit. Although the creators of the show and the television network refuse to call the show a “prequel” or “spin-off” and instead refer to it as a companion series to The Walking Dead, they were smart to expand the universe of cable’s most popular show. Why not take advantage of a hit show and create another hit show based on something that is already successful?!? And so Fear the Walking Dead was born, taking place in Los Angeles instead of Atlanta, Georgia or Alexandria, Virginia. The show focuses on the beginning of the zombie outbreak, while The Walking Dead started with the outbreak already underway, with hopes of a crossover once the timelines of the two shows catch up to each other. AMC bet right on this prequel gamble: last Sunday’s premiere episode attracted 10.1 million viewers, a cable television record for a series premiere.
The prequel phenomenon is not unique to the zombie universe of The Walking Dead. Following the successful run of another AMC hit show, Breaking Bad, the network revealed a Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul, which has received critical acclaim and award nominations. After FX’s hit Sons of Anarchy went off the air this past year, creator Kurt Sutter began talking about expanding that universe to include a prequel and a companion show.
The concept of a prequel is a fascinating one. While I fully understand anxiously waiting for a sequel, and waiting to see the continuation of a beloved story line, there are no surprises in a prequel. We know how things turn out. We already know what the zombie apocalypse world looks like and yet, a record number of viewers turned out to watch Fear the Walking Dead. Why are we so fascinated with prequels? Sequels may reveal a new twist in the storyline, but prequels help us come to terms with what we already know. Prequels allow us to make sense of the chaotic present reality.
We are taught to look inward during Elul. We are taught to think about where we are and where we want to be. We think about the present in order to prepare for the future. We are also taught to not worry about the past. The past is the past and we cannot go back and change it. That is certainly true. However, acknowledging and examining the past allows us to reflect on who we are and where we are in life. We cannot change and be who we strive to be – and get to where we want to be – in life unless we accept who we are and where we are currently. To understand who we are and where we are, we need to reflect on the past. We need to examine the prequels of our lives. Every action has a corresponding reaction. Every decision has a consequence. Thinking back on our past – examining our prequels – helps us understand our present. Only then, can we truly prepare to change. Reflecting on our past successes and mistakes allows us to understand our current reality.
May we each be courageous enough to look back on our pasts, the blessings and the challenges, the right decisions and the wrong ones, to understand how got to where we are. Only once we do this, can we let go of the past in order to start in a new direction for the new year.
Fear the Walking Dead premiered on August 23rd, 2015. New episodes of the show premiere on Sunday nights at 9:00 PM EST on AMC. The show is rated TV-14 for coarse language and violence.
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-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
It took more than two months, but Tom Cruise’s summer blockbuster, Edge Of Tomorrow, finally crossed the $100 million domestic box office mark. The film was deemed a disappointment following its opening weekend when it got trounced by the teen tear jerker The Fault In Our Stars. Yet, by reaching the $100 million mark, the film is certainly a success. In fact, it has been one of Cruise’s most successful films in almost a decade. It is Tom Cruise’s most successful non-Mission Impossible film since 2005’s War Of The Worlds.
I also believe the film was so successful because it was surprisingly entertaining. Previews made it seem like it was an odd pairing of part Starship Troopers and part Groundhog Day, about a soldier (Major William Cage, played by Cruise) who is thrown into battle in the not-so-distant future in an “us or them” combat mission against the aliens that have already destroyed a large percentage of humanity.
Being sent to battle even though he was never a combat soldier, Major Cage dies almost immediately. Yet, much like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, he wakes up at the beginning of the day he dies and starts that day over. Like a character in a video game, he tries to get further every time. With each death, he learns something new, realizes to not make the same mistake twice, and as a result, succeeds where he previously failed. Along the way, he falls in love with special forces warrior Rita Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt). The two work together since Vrataski previously experiened what Cage was dealing with, which was apparently a side effect of being covered in the Alpha Mimic’s blood upon being killed.
The story was more suspenseful than one would expect from a humans vs. aliens action flick. What fascinated me most about the film though was Major Cage’s attempt time and time again to have a “do-over.” He was able to fix his mistakes. [SPOILER ALERT] Yet, as far as he got, as many “do-overs” as he had, he still felt that he and Vrataski were destined to be killed by the aliens. He could delay the inevitable, but didn’t think he could change it.
If only we could have “do-overs” in life. If only we could make mistakes and not have to worry about the impact or consequences. Instead, we would just keep trying over and over again until we eventually got it right. Life would certainly be a lot easier. But that is not real life. We do not get to rewind and rewrite the script. Life is not a Nintendo game that keeps resetting until Mario saves the princess. Even if we were to get a “do-over” and avoid those makes, the impact would still be felt. Major Cage avoided mistakes and yet still felt that he was only delaying the inevitable. Even in “do-overs,” we still deal with consequences.
As we look back on the year that has passed and analyze that which we are proud of and that which disappoints us, we accept that we cannot take back what we said, what we did, how we acted, or whom we hurt. We cannot change the consequences of our actions. Attempting to do so only delays the inevitable. We cannot focus on the past. We cannot worry about the future. Instead, we focus on whom we are and how we act today, in the moment.
Maybe we get “do-overs” after all. We do not go back in time. We do not get to replay interactions over again and change the script. We do, however, get clean slates. Teshuvah, repentance, allows us to let go of those past mistakes and leave them behind. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, many Jews follow the custom of participating in a Tashlich ceremony, in which bread crumbs are thrown into flowing waters. The bread symbolically represents our previous mistakes that we are tossing away. We are starting fresh. We are getting a “do-over.” We cannot start from the beginning and change the past, but we each have the ability to shape the present. We are on the edge of today. We only get one shot at today. How will you shape the present?
Please Note: “Edge Of Tomorrow” starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton is Rated PG-13. The film, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, has grossed more than $100 million domestically and well over $300 million worldwide. “Edge of Tomorrow” will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the United States on October 7th, 2014.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
One of the most talked about and anticipated superhero blockbusters of the summer was X-Men: Days of Future Past. Part of the excitement was a result of the movie’s plot, based on The Uncanny X-Men comic book story arc from the early 1980’s of the same title . The movie also serves as a sequel to 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and the 2011 franchise reboot, X-Men: First Class. The storyline also brings together the younger and older versions of some of X-Men’s most iconic characters, with, as a result of Wolverine’s time travel, both James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart starring as Professor Xavier and Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen starring as Magneto.
The movie begins in an apocalyptic future in which Sentinel robots have exterminated the majority of the world’s mutants. The remaining X-Men have even joined forces with Magneto and his band of villains, to help each other try to survive. In 1973 Mystique assassinated the creator of the Sentinels, in an attempt to prevent this mutant destroying robots. The assassination backfired though. Following the assassination, she was captured, and the government used her shape-shifting DNA to make the Sentinels invincible and all powerful.
The solution is to have Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde use her powers to send Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine back to 1973 (or at least send his consciousness back in time since he never ages) and prevent Mystique from assassinating the Sentinels’ creator. Like the Butterfly Effect theory, their belief is that stopping this assassination will change the course of history.
[SPOILER ALERT] They were right. Wolverine saved the day, as we knew he would. The Sentinels disappeared from the future entirely and we see a future in which the mutants are living and teaching in Professor Xavier’s previously destroyed and abandoned School for Gifted Youngsters in peace and harmony and even characters that were killed in prior films, like Jean Grey and Cyclops, are alive and well.
The movie is exciting and was one of the best reviewed films in the X-Men franchise. Aside from the fighting, explosions, and CGI special effects, the plot is an opportunity to complete change our past, something that all of us wish we could do. If only we could all have a mutant send our consciousness back in time to change our past mistakes. If only we could go back in time and right our wrongs. If only we truly understood the long term impact and consequences of our actions maybe we would’ve acted differently in the first place. But there is no going back in time. There is no changing the past to shape the future.
This time of year has never really been about changing the past. Rather, the Hebrew month of Elul and the Days of Awe, are about accepting our mistakes of the past. We accept the past and acknowledge that our actions and in some cases, inactions, have brought us to this moment. The beauty of the Jewish New Year is that it is an opportunity to begin anew. We are renewed and refreshed. We have a clean slate. Through teshuvah, repentance, we not only seek forgiveness from God and from those that we have wronged, but we seek forgiveness from ourselves. Once we truly can forgive ourselves for past mistakes, we are able to focus on who we are in the present. What the future holds is determined by our actions here and now. While we cannot change the past, we can begin anew by changing who we are and how we act in the present. May we have the strength to forgive ourselves for mistakes of the past and the courage to do true teshuvah, in order to change who we are in the present.
Please Note: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” starring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michael Fassbender is Rated PG-13. The film, produced by 20th Century Fox, has grossed over $230 million in North America and over $740 million worldwide.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
The Spectacular Now, starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley has been the “indie favorite” of the summer for movie critics. It was warmly received earlier in the year at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. I’m not sure what classifies it as “indie.” It may be because Woodley is the film’s biggest star (although she was praised for her role in The Descendants, most wouldn’t consider her headliner material just yet.) It may be that after over a month in limited release, the film still hasn’t even outgrossed its minuscule $2.5 million budget.
Either way, the film has gained much praise from critics and movie-goers, rated 93% out of 100 on the Rotten Tomatoes film review website. Adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel, the comedy-drama begins with a character typical of any teenage story. Teller plays Sutter Keely, a high school senior who loves to party and always seems to be the life of the party. After being dumped by his girlfriend, he parties a little too hard, passes out on a lawn, awoken by Aimee Finecky (played superbly by Woodley) figuring out who he is, what he is doing, and if he is okay.
Aimee is the complete opposite of Sutter and the girls that Sutter has previously been romantically involved with. Sutter is the typical example of the “YOLO” culture of milennials. He lives in the now, the spectacular now as the title suggests, and does not worry about the future. He enjoys the present, instead of worrying about college, a career, and a life ahead of him. Aimee meanwhile is a quiet nice girl who spends your time with science fiction books. They attend the same school and he had never noticed her before. Yet, he takes a notice now, and she ends up as the party animal’s ‘rebound’ girlfriend.
Viewers might be confused by the partnership, with one focused on the present and the other dreaming of the future, yet it works. I am sure many of the film waited for the moment that Sutter would break lovable Aimee’s heart, as is typical in many teenage romance dramas. This coming of age story though teaches us an important lesson. As adult, we often need to remind ourselves that we cannot dwell in the past and we cannot only focus on the future because we will miss the present, we will miss experiencing life as we are living it. Yet this film reminds us of the unfortunate reality of only living in the present and not worrying about tomorrow.
To not worry about tomorrow is to not worry about others and not worry about how our actions impact others. While we learn that actions of others (and his challenging relationship with family) has led Teller’s character to only live in the now, he forgets that his own actions have consequences. Aimee helps him realize that and think about the path that he wishes to create for himself.
Late Saturday night, we listened to the equally awe-inspiring and chilling melodies of the Selichot service. This service recited late night on the Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashanah, is our introduction to liturgy of forgiveness and prayers of a better future. We cannot only live in the now because the now is based on the past. Who we are now and how we act now is a direct result of previous action or inaction. Furthermore, our actions now lead us to who we want to be in the future. So, we reflect and ask ourselves: who do we want to be? What do we want to do? Where do we want to go? The path to get us there must start somewhere. That path begins now.
As we reflect on the future, on the year ahead, and what we want that year to look like, may we also focus on the now, for ultimately, the future begins with now. Now is when we begin to change. Now is when we strive to be the best version of ourselves. We focus on the now not because we do not care about the future. We focus on the now specifically because we care about the future. A spectacular now leads to a spectacular future.
Please Note: “The Spectacular Now” stars Shailene Woodley, Miles teller, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Kyle Chandler. Following rave reviews at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, the film was produced by 21 Laps Entertainment and distributed by A24. The film is Rated R, for alcohol use, language, and some sexuality, all by teens.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky