Another aspect of The Secrets is generational conflict and resolution. This is most obvious in the battle between Naomi and her father, Rabbi Hess. Not only does her father see Naomi as rash in her desire to break with tradition and forgo the arranged marriage, he also feels she does not understand his role within the family, or the true role of his departed wife. Naomi says very little about her mother, but makes a powerful insinuation that Rabbi Hess treated her badly and caused her great pain. We don’t know how she died, but it’s clear from Naomi’s comment about her weeping in the kitchen that she was not happy. Rabbi Hess appeared not to know this. The extension of roles moves beyond family barriers and extends far into the ultra-orthodox world. Avi Nesher makes the rabbi more complex, and a bit more sympathetic, by portraying him as at least willing to teach his daughter and let her go to seminary. He is not completely opposed to his brilliant daughter’s dreams. But he has his limits. Perfectly reasonable from his point of view. Not so much from Naomi’s.
Another conflict flares briefly between Naomi and the headmistress of the seminary. While a feminist in her own right — she hopes to educate the first female orthodox rabbis — she fails to fight patriarchal pressures and defend Naomi and Michel. Naomi sees that as cowardice. The headmistress sees that as strategy. She has the long view, being older. Naomi wants progress now, everything depends upon it. She’s young. It’s understandable. In a sense, her future depends upon it, and there’s probably much more of it ahead of her than behind her. It’s doubtful the headmistress sees her own future in that light.
A third generational conflict has a twist. Naomi and Michel, the young students, teach Anouk, the much older woman, to cleanse her past, to find peace, to heal. Roles are reversed and reversed again, as Anouk sees the two young students as daughters, as teachers, as guides through the waters of self-forgiveness. Naomi no longer has a mother of her own, and Michel seems detached from her own family. Anouk is both daughter and mother, test case and wounded patient. Circling back . . .
* * * * *
Time. The sense of time as we age. The sense of how important some things are for the present, now. Even if they can be postponed, or should be, or if they need careful attention instead and can’t be rushed. So often the young are in a hurry, and don’t understand the slowness of earlier generations. So often those earlier generations don’t understand why the young won’t slow down, smell the roses, dwell. Stay. Thinking about the generational conflicts in The Secrets made me think about a truly brilliant song by Cat Stevens, Father and Son. So basic, so simple on the surface, but evocative of an ancient dynamic outside of time . . .