Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof PosterFiddler on the Roof is a story about Tevye,  a man living during changing times. A man who, above all else, wants things to stay just as they are, but finds that despite his best efforts, they change anyway. The film is adapted from a Broadway play which was inspired by a collection of stories written by Sholem Aleichem in 1894. The film is set in 1905, a troubled time for Jews living in Russia. It centers on Tevye and his family and spans the time-period between the marriage of his eldest daughter, Tzeitel, and the highly unorthodox marriage of his middle daughter, Chava.


The film is extraordinarily well-made. The framing, music, set design, and acting are all excellent. It is one of the few older films that I consider a favorite. The film’s main theme is also an interesting one. Throughout the film (which, at just under three hours, might be considered a bit long by today’s standards) Tevye see his highly structured way of life changing far faster than he ever imagined. It is a fascinating topic, especially as we watch our own ways of life changing every day.

One of the things I find especially interesting about this story is how quickly the filmmakers are able to subtly ingrain in us Tevye’s point of view. As we observe things changing in his world, we want to cry out right along with him, despite the fact that when we step back and think about it, the things that Tevye sees as radical are things that today are seen as very conservative!

“On the other hand…”

This film is clean, with the exception of one scene where some of the young ladies are seen in their slips.

One thing which may be of concern is the film’s changing perspective on marriage. The traditional Jewish way of doing things was for the father (along with a helpful matchmaker) to chose a bride for each of his sons. Teyve only has daughters, so the matchmaker would come to him and tell him of suitable matches for his daughters. He would then talk to the young man and either give or withhold his permission.

His daughters, however, have different plans. As time goes by, each of them strays farther and father from the traditional marriage customs. Tevye makes some protest but eventually gives in to each of them, that is, until Chava elopes with a Gentile. To Tevye, this is unacceptable and he disowns her.
To a modern American audience, this may come across as quite a shock. It is, however, an old Jewish tradition and was even softened a bit in the film, as the Jews would usually follow the disownment with their traditional funeral customs, signaling that by their choice the child had abandoned the faith and was now dead to the other Jews.

Also of some concern is the drunkenness portrayed in a couple of scenes. There are a couple of tense or potentially frightening scenes involving the revolutionaries, so parents with young children may want to preview this film before viewing it as a family.

“To Life!”

Fiddler on the Roof is a fun film that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Some discussion may be in order afterwards to clear up the differences between Jewish and Christian theology, but on the whole this film is quite clean.

Makes me wish Hollywood would go back to the old days of filmmaking.

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