Bee Season (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Scott McGehee
|Produced by||Albert Berger
|Screenplay by||Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal|
|Based on||Bee Season
by Myla Goldberg
|Music by||Peter Nashel|
|Editing by||Lauren Zuckerman|
|Distributed by||Fox Searchlight Pictures|
|Running time||104 minutes|
Bee Season is a 2005 American drama film adaptation of the 2000 novel of the same name by Myla Goldberg. The film was directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel and written by Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal. It stars Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche.
Saul Naumann (Gere) is a somewhat controlling Jewish husband and father. A Religious Studies professor at UC Berkeley, Saul wrote his graduate thesis on the Kabbalah. Because he was a devout Jew, his wife Miriam (Binoche) converted to Judaism when they married, and he nurtured his son Aaron (Max Minghella) into a traditional studious Jew like himself. When Eliza (Flora Cross) wins her class spelling bee, they embark on a course of Kabbalah study to help her win. The film follows the family and the spiritual quests upon which they journey, in large part because of Saul: Miriam's attempt to make herself whole, Aaron's religious uncertainty, and Eliza's desire to be closer to her father.
Miriam lives a secret life throughout her entire marriage to Saul, trying to fulfill the religious idea she learned from him, tikkun olam, or "repairing the world" and "reuniting its shards." She takes this meaning literally and slowly collects trinkets she finds beautiful (sometimes breaking into people's houses and stealing them) and storing them in a warehouse, trying to hold the light of God in them. Saul's son, Aaron, grows unsure of the Judaism foisted on him by his father, and in trying to find a faith he personally believes in, he becomes a Hare Krishna after meeting a woman named Chali in the park. For Eliza, her experience begins with a desire to be as close to her father as he and Aaron are; the two would often have discussions about Judaism and play music together. Saul's graduate thesis on Kabbalah writer Abraham Abulafia (who believed that careful analysis of words could lead to contact with God) brings Saul and Eliza closer together when Saul learns Eliza has won the district spelling bee.
Upon learning of her success Saul takes control of Eliza's life, trying to coach her with the Kabbalah teachings he knows so well. Eliza enjoys the renewed attention of her father and pursues the competition with her father's involvement. This comes at the expense of Aaron, who receives less time with Saul, even as he falls deeper into his religious dubiosity. At the center of the film, Eliza becomes Saul's newest religious project. Eliza continues to do well at spelling bees seemingly because of a higher spiritual connection with God, as Abraham Abulafia wrote about; visions appear to her and help her spell the word, no matter how difficult.
Saul's obsession with his daughter's gift and the opportunities it presents to him consume him to the point that he is callously ignorant of the collapse of his family occurring around him. He is forced to face it when Miriam is caught entering a home and ultimately checks herself into a psychiatric ward. Aaron comes to reject his father's religion and eventually leave the household. Eliza is implicitly aware of how her gift has contributed to this deterioration and her attempts to achieve spiritual awareness become terrifying.
- Richard Gere as Saul
- Juliette Binoche as Miriam
- Flora Cross as Eliza
- Max Minghella as Aaron
- Kate Bosworth as Chali
While the literal plot simply follows a girl from a somewhat dysfunctional family moving through the world of competitive spelling, the actual plot of Bee Season is a much more complex one on personal religious views. Saul can be seen as a Kabbalistic figure himself, desperately trying to become closer to God while remaining, ironically, entirely oblivious to Eliza's natural gift for connecting to God, and to his family's deepening troubles. Instead of using knowledge (as one does in Kabbalah), Saul uses each of his family members in a (mostly vain) attempt to deepen his own religious sense (an act finally uncovered by Aaron near the film's end). Meanwhile, his wife, Miriam, is caught stealing and is sent to a mental institution. The relationships between all members of the family, which were shallow and disconnected to begin with, fall apart. But family healing is implied in the final scene, where Eliza purposely loses the National Spelling Bee, a sacrifice drawing upon the spiritual connection she made the night before.
Differences between film and novel
The film generally follows the plot of Goldberg's novel, but with some notable changes. In the novel, Saul is a cantor, not a college professor. Miriam was born Jewish, rather than being a convert. Eliza did not get second place in the national spelling bee, though she did well. It was not until months later, when it came time at her school spelling bee to make her second attempt at the National Spelling Bee, that Eliza decided to get a word wrong on purpose. Chali, the person who introduces Aaron to the Hare Krishna religion, is a man in the novel. Also, in the novel, Aaron and Saul both play the guitar, whereas in the film, Aaron plays the cello, while Saul plays the violin.
Critical response 
As of January 29, 2006 Bee Season had taken a gross of $1,177,082 in the United States, with an opening American weekend of $120,544.
Home media 
The DVD was released in the US April 4, 2006.
- http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=beeseason.htm Box Office Mojo Amazon.com
- "Bee Season". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster.
- "Bee Season". Metacritic. CBS.
- Business details for Bee Season for IMDb, retrieved March 24, 2006
- Awards details for Bee Season for IMDb, retrieved March 24, 2006
- Bee Season: DVD