The Plot Against America is a very realistic look at what the early 1940s could have looked like if Charles Lindbergh had been elected as president.
What the world could have been. This is not something any of us really want to think about. A world without the Holocaust or persecution against Jewry is something I think about all the time. And yet, it’s very well possible that something like what we see in this series could have happened. In any event, series creators David Simon and Ed Burns adapt Philip Roth’s novel of the same name for television. To say that this miniseries isn’t pretty isn’t an understatement.
The Plot Against America’s main focus is on the Levin family consisting of Herman (Morgan Spector), Bess (Zoe Kazan), Sandy (Caleb Malis), and Phillip (Azhy Robertson). They’re a working-class Jewish family living in New Jersey. You can see their differences as Americans make their opinions known. Herman hangs in there while Bess’s anxiety grows.
It goes without saying that America never enters World War 2 in The Plot Against America. Because of this, Alvin Levin (Anthony Boyle) enters the fight in his own right. While America isn’t fighting, Canada certainly is! Regardless, this decision doesn’t rest well with Alvin’s uncle, Herman.
Just like in the novel, my hometown of Louisville, Ky. gets painted with bad name. This comes when Walter Minchell gets assassinated during his presidential campaign. When Minchell got fired from his broadcasting job, he did the next best thing by taking it directly to Lindbergh. When you see what’s happening across the country to Jews, nobody could blame him for running. If you’re familiar with the novel, this doesn’t come as a shock. It doesn’t make one feel any less angry though.
Where one’s anger should go is South Carolina-born Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro). Here’s a rabbi who turns his eye against his own community by endorsing Lindbergh. How can a Jew–let alone a rabbi–think of endorsing a xenophobic populist when Jews are dying in Europe? The mere thought of it is simply unfathomable! Oh, don’t think it doesn’t get worse because it certainly does! His future bride is none other than Evelyn Finkel (Winona Ryder). She just happens to be the sister of Bess Levin. Politics have a way of breaking up families and we certainly experience the two sisters falling apart over the course of six episodes. Not surprising. Not at all.
This isn’t much of a surprise but Bengelsdorf’s congregation loses several families because of his political views. As the series gets into the final half, we start to see more of the ramifications against the Jewish community. It’s as if the prelude to the Holocaust comes to the United States. Fascists vandalize Jewish stores much like Nazis in Germany did in November 1938. You can’t help but feel sick in your stomach.
Philip Roth published his novel in 2004. I’ll pause while allowing you to think about this. It’s currently 2020 and anti-Semitism is certainly worse than I can ever remember in my lifetime. People are getting killed or beat up solely for being Jewish. Across the pond in Europe, conditions are about as bad as they were in the 1930s. Jews are leaving France. Do you know what the sad part is? Non-Jews are largely silent. This is very much a shame. Why must Jews be the ones that are speaking up?
Unlike the recently premiered Hunters, there is no Holocaust imagery. What we have instead is a look at life in the United States with fascist beliefs taking over. Even when Alvin decides to fight the Nazis, we rarely see what happens to him overseas.
The Plot Against America is but one example of what could happen when people don’t speak out against hate.
CREATORS: David Simon and Ed Burns
CAST: Winona Ryder, Anthony Boyle, Zoe Kazan, Morgan Spector, Michael Kostroff, David Krumholtz, Azhy Robertson, Caleb Malis, Jacob Laval, and John Turturro