What You Need To Know:
SIMON MAGUS is another beautifully filmed and meticulously directed European production. However, this movie tips too far in the direction of the demonic, the anti-Jewish and the anti-Christian. Although there are good Christians, the squire and the priest, and good Jews, there is also vile stereotyping, bigoted criticisms and horrendous comments, like “boils on the ass of Christ.” The good, the true and the beautiful barely shows in this movie, which seems to idolize Simon’s earthy, adolescent, foolish rebellion. Thus, SIMON MAGUS comes down not on the side of redemption, but on the side of the demonic.
(FR, OO, AbAb, B, C, L, V, A, D, M) Idiosyncratic pro-Jewish & anti-Jewish & anti-Christian, Eastern European, Talmudic worldview featuring appearances by the Devil, a positive view toward magic & many anti-Jewish & anti-Christian comments; 7 obscenities & 1 profanity plus man urinates on children; children stone man, threat of being run over by train, & threat of burning down church; brief kiss & discussions of marriage; no nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, lying, cheating, disturbing images, & magic.
Based on an Eastern European Jewish tale, SIMON MAGUS is magical in both the fanciful and demonic senses of the word. Simon himself, the title character, is a strange village idot, Holy Fool and Devil’s Advocate character living in a Jewish village on the property of a kindly squire. The Jewish men have been leaving the village, so the synagogue is now down to the minimum 10 required to have a synagogue if they exclude Simon, which they do because of his strange ways.
Simon prays all the time, but he also talks to the Devil and practices magic. His prayers often drift into nonsensical tirades. He empties latrines and begs for a living.
The children in the village make fun of him and stone him. The Devil tells him to take revenge by urinating on the boys while they sleep, which he does. The rabbi has the three boys whipped once and Simon whipped ten times. Thus, Simon decides he hates the Jews so he goes to the Christian village to become a Christian. The Devil encourages him, telling him that Jews are pigs, “boils on the ass of Christ.”
Meanwhile, Dovid, one of the Jewish men, has gone to the squire to see if he can buy a small bit of land to build a train station and some shops near the new train tracks. The squire, played magnificently by Rutger Hauer, takes a liking to Dovid and gives him a book of poetry which the squire wrote.
One of the Christian villagers, Max, who is very anti-Semitic, also goes to the squire to buy the same plot of land. When he finds out a Jew has made an offer first, he is determined to win the battle, even if it means burning down the Jewish village.
When Simon comes to talk to the priest, who is very kind and theologically sound, Max seizes the opportunity to tell Simon that he can become a Christian if he spies on the Jews. The priest, on the other hand, tells Simon that the “love of Christ is not bought by gold,” and tells him the story of Simon Magus in the Bible. Max, however, feeds Simon pork and gets Simon to violate all of the rabbinical rules.
Dovid is overwhelmed by the squire’s poetry and realizes that is the key to winning the land. In the process of studying the poetry, he develops a more humane approach to others. The squire grants him the contract, and Max moves to burn down the synagogue in revenge. That Passover eve, Simon walks through the villages like the Angel of Death on the eve of Passover, performing miraculous and magical signs and wonders.
SIMON MAGUS is another one of those European productions which is beautifully filmed and meticulously directed. In the tradition of Eastern European Jewish tales, it is a strange combination of the magical, the demonic, the moral, and the biblical. Quite often these Talmudic type stories are zweideutig, that is, impenetrable, ambiguous and ambivalent. However, in the final analysis, this story tips too far in the direction of the demonic, the anti-Jewish and the anti-Christian. There are good Christians, such as the squire and the priest, and good Jews, but there is also vile stereotyping, bigoted criticisms and horrendous comments, like “boils on the ass of Christ.” The good, the true and the beautiful barely shows in this movie, which seems to idolize Simon’s earthy, adolescent, foolish rebellion. Thus, SIMON MAGUS comes down not on the side of redemption, although there is a happy ending, but on the side of bigotry and the demonic.