sary, the Penguin, played by Danny De-rnVito in ‘Batman Returns,’ is not just arndeformed man, half-human, half-Arcticrnbeast. He is a Jew, down to his hookedrnnose, pale face and lust for herring. No,rnMr. DeVito is not Jewish, but that’s justrnit: Man in penguin costume. Christianrnin Jew face.”rnSo, reluctantly, skeptically, and with arndegree of apprehension that had nothingrnto do with the film, I betook myself tornmy local cinema—where, not long ago,rnsome frustrated swain pulled a piece onrnhis companion of the evening, who wasrnevidently resisting his more pacific advancesrnand blandishments, shot her inrnthe midsection, nicked her spine, andrnparalyzed her for life. This is that theaterrnof cruelty Artaud envisioned; herernthe oppressed and the deprived come torncheer at the mayhem they have imagined,rnthe havoc and devastation theyrnhave dreamed of—which probably willrnnot restore equity and justice but mayrnbe, at least for a while, diverting.rnStill, I was dubious about thernprospects of seeing an old-fashionedrn1930’s Jew-baiting movie. CUNY ProfessorrnLeonard Jeffries may not be entirelyrnsane in his conviction that a conspiracyrnof Jews and Italians out inrnHollywood is responsible for the unflatteringrnportrayal of black people in mostrnAmerican movies. But it is harder tornbelieve that an industry from which Jewsrnare not significantly excluded is goingrnto base a surefire summer hit on thernold blood libel. (Mendel Beiliss, thournshouldst be living at this hour!) Butrnthese Columbia kids are not crazy. Ifrnanything, their report is cautious, modest,rnand generally understated.rnThe movie makes no sense whatever,rnand one is therefore forced to guess atrnwhat the point of it might be. It is evenrna more dismal narrative muddle thanrnthe first film, and it is visually uninterestingrn—mostly murky, dark, and, well,rnGerman expressionist. So we are inevitablyrnmore receptive to hints andrnclues than we would be if there werernsome surface story line to keep ourrnminds minimally occupied. It is clearrnthat Christianity is the film’s subject:rnthe action is set around Christmastime,rnand the lighting of the tree is a significantrnpiece of business that the bad guysrnare trying either to prevent or to expropriate.rnThe last line of dialogue is thatrnof Batman himself, responding to hisrnmanservant’s wishes for a Merry Christmasrnwith a hope for “peace on earth andrngoodwill towards men . . . and women.”rnThe Penguin, on the other hand, i s . . .rnat least as Jewish as Roiphe and Cooperrnclaim. His penguinishness is a clear andrndeliberate rejection of the debonair figurernthat Burgess Meredith used to cutrnin the television series. He waves awayrnthat cigarette holder, and we see himrninstead in the most unflattering way possible,rnwith a new coiffure of greasy hairrnhanging down in the back (Fagin’s do),rnand he cavorts a lot in his long Johns.rnGross and grubby, his characteristicrnbeaky nose is no longer the benignrnPinocchio cylindrical appendage but arnconventional caricature of the Semiticrnschnozz, which is photographed from arnlow angle to exaggerate it and make itrneven more grotesque. The discussionrnof what is or is not human (nonhuman?rnsubhuman!) is the film’s central business.rnBatman and the Catwoman haverntheir animal natures, too, but they triumphrnover them or keep them underrncontrol. The trouble with the Penguin isrnthat his bestiality runs riot and that hernoutwardly proclaims it: “I am not a humanrnbeing! I am an animal!” Which isrnthe fundamental basis of all bigotry—rnthat they are not like us and in fact arernnot even human. The Penguin is angryrnat his parents for having made him whatrnhe is and for then betraying him. In thernfilm’s opening sequence he is put into arnMoses-like cradle and thrown into arnfrozen river, which becomes a sewer thatrnempties improbably enough into thernpenguin house of the local zoo. Hisrnwicked polluting coconspirator is MaxrnShreck, played by Christopher Walken.rnShreck owns, among other things, a departmentrnstore—like Altman’s? Or Macy’s?rnAnd his name, which means “fear”rnin German, is the name of the actorrnwho played the vampire in F. W. Murnau’srn1922 silent film, Nosferatu—a notrntoo subtle suggestion of blood-sucking.rnThe Wagnerian references in DannyrnElfman’s music and in the rubber duckrnthat is the Penguin’s preferred mode ofrntransportation and, as Roiphe and Cooperrnpoint out, a version of the Schwan derrnScheldt from Lohengrin, can’t be inadvertent.rnThe Penguin insists on a revengernthat will not be limited to firstbornrnsons but will be more general andrn(ha-ha!) liberal and include all children,rnwithout limitation of gender or birth order.rnAt the film’s climax, a bunch ofrnpenguins dive into the water at his bidding,rnwhich would be ludicrous—attackpenguins?rn—except that the reference isrnclearly to the swarms of rats in the oldrnNazi propaganda films. The target ofrntheir attack, so far as it can be determined,rnis not only children but Christmas.rnWhile I don’t remember this fromrnthe film—I was numb by this point—rnthe official DC Comic adaptationrn(“Take The Movie Home!”) shows thernPenguin and his avian minions singingrn”Silent night, violent night, all is shrill,rnall is blight…” so that we cannot mistakernthe fact that their target is Christianityrnand, indeed, Christ himself.rnDismayed yet convinced, I am tryingrnto figure out what any of this may mean.rnTheatergoers mostly didn’t get it—Irnthink. Or rather I hope. Until now,rnthey have been kept relatively calm withrnthe antics of a Schwarzenegger, a Willis,rnor a Mel Gibson and a Danny Gloverrnteam, showing up the deficiencies in intellectrnand courage of recognized authoritiesrnand bureaucrats who have annoyedrnthem in their welfare offices,rnschools, housing projects, parole offices,rnand prisons. Those fantasy exercises allowedrnaudiences to suppose that none ofrntheir troubles were their own fault, butrnrather the result of the system itself.rnThe message of Batman Returns is thatrnall our ills arise from the work of somernsmall but evil bunch of rich and powerfulrnpeople who are different from us—rnnot quite human, beasts, vermin—andrnare therefore after blood, wanting to killrnour children and our God.rnI remember, at a press screening ofrnExodus, hearing what was probably thernbest one-liner in the history of movierncriticism. As we were coming out of therntheater, somebody behind me (I preferredrnnot knowing who this smart-aleekrnwas and not having to envy him) said,rn”This movie will set the Jews back fourrnhours.” I hope it’s no worse than thatrnthis time.rnMeanwhile, on a cheerier front, I amrndelighted to report that Monster in a Boxrnis a glorious romp. What we have herernis nothing spectacular in conventionalrnmovie terms. There’s a man seated at arntable, and he’s talking. We see his handsrnand his face, and the table and the microphonernand the glass of water. Alsornon this table is a 1900-page eponymousrnmonster, the novel he has been workingrnon for years and years. This novel is actuallyrnout and available. Impossible Vacation,rnbut the movie is by no means arnpromotion for the book, except in thernmost roundabout way. Those of us whornare interested in Spalding Gray’s curi-rnDECEMBER 1992/49rnrnrn