The Arty Semite

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jewish Role

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

I’ve been reading the many pieces remembering actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead at the age of 46 of an apparent drug overdose on Sunday morning. Everyone is praising him for his memorable performances in movies such as “Capote” (for which he won an Oscar in 2006), “Moneyball,” “Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights,” and “The Master.” Some writers are even pointing out that many of his best performances were in really bad movies, like “Patch Adams” and “Along Came Polly.”

But no one seems to be recalling his title role in the award-winning 2009 Australian clay animation film, “Mary & Max.” Hoffman voiced Max (full name: Max Jerry Horowitz), a lonely, obese middle-aged Jewish man with Asperger Syndrome living in 1970s New York. He was raised Orthodox, but is now an atheist. He continues to wear his yarmulke, but only because it keeps his brain warm. Max has a penchant for chocolate hotdogs (his own recipe), playing the lottery and the Noblets, characters in an animated television show.

Max becomes pen pals with a little girl in Australia named Mary, who has troubles of her own. She, too, loves the Noblets and chocolate. The film, expertly done in all respects, chronicles the ups and downs of Mary and Max’s relationship over the years, as Mary grows older and Max grows fatter. It’s a brutally honest film, and it makes me cry every time I watch it.

By chance, I happened to re-watch it for the first time in a long time just this past week. My youngest son, who is 12 years old, suddenly recalled something about the movie, so we decided to watch it together one evening.

When the credits rolled, I pointed out Hoffman’s name to my son, mentioning what an incredible actor he is (and now, sadly, was). My son asked whether Hoffman was an old Jewish man, and I said no. “Then, how could he know exactly how to make Max sound so much like Max?” my son wanted to know.

That was Hoffman’s genius and gift. He could fully become Max, just as he could completely embody every other character he played in his far-too-short career.

Max, although he was made of clay, was like most of the other characters Hoffman played on screen. “Sad specimens” is what A.O. Scott called them today in the New York Times.

“The point was to make us believe them and to recognize in them — in him — a truth about ourselves that we might otherwise have preferred to avoid. He had a rare ability to illuminate the varieties of human ugliness. No one ever did it so beautifully.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Obituaries, Mary and Max

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.