Based on Yoram Kaniuk’s 1968 novel, Paul Schrader’s Adam Resurrected is a powerful story about human survival presented through a tour-de-force performance by Jeff Goldblum that is quite possibly the best of his career. The film is very captivating, but its conclusion is unsatisfying because it happens so quickly and is difficult for the medium to show.
When we meet Adam Stein (Goldblum), it is in 1961 Tel Aviv. He is being returned to an asylum for Holocaust survivors. Adam is very intelligent and charismatic, especially in contrast to his other inmates, many of whom idolize him because he was a talented cabaret star in 1920s Berlin until his family’s internment at a concentration camp in 1944. Stein is similar to Jack Nicholson’s R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, except Stein sleeps with the head nurse rather than strangles her. Although he did attempt to strangle his landlady, though he seems unaware of it, and this is why he is returned to the asylum.
Although he is likely an alcoholic, Stein seems in control through his dealings with both the patients and the staff, which may or may not be part of his therapy. That is, until he discovers a dog has been allowed into the facilities. This sends him on a tirade because he was told explicitly that there would be no dogs. The reason this causes so much turmoil is revealed in flashbacks. During his internment, Stein was separated from his family and was forced to live his life as a dog in the quarters of the camp commandant (Willem Dafoe). In the hopes that he could help his family, Stein accepted being completely dehumanized by, among other things, having to walk around on all fours, eating food off a bone, and providing comfort to the commandant.
Stein finds the dog, only to learn that it is a young boy who was horribly treated by his parents and forced to live in the basement. Stein is able to communicate with the young boy. Both the characters help each other heal although Stein’s issues are not as obvious. As the audience witnesses Stein’s life play out, it’s quite understandable that he has serious emotional problems, but they manifest themselves so subtly at times, though not always, it’s almost a surprise when they are finally dealt with in the third act. In addition, the ease and quickness with which the conflicts are resolved call into question how serious they were, even though it’s undeniable that they were very serious.
Adam Resurrected shows an interesting perspective of the Holocaust experience by focusing on the aftermath and recovery, which presents a more complete picture of the survivors. Even though, the ending is rather abrupt and causes the film’s intensity to dissipate, Schrader and his team still deliver an intriguing work anchored by Goldblum’s brilliant and captivating performance. The film is not for everyone, but for those who appreciate fine acting, it is well worth seeking out.