An American Pickle


This is absolutely brilliant.  I thought it might be silly – man gets pickled in brine for 100 years – but it’s an incredibly clever film about modern life and culture wars, specifically in New York but it would work in a lot of other places too.  If you’re the sort of person who takes yourself very seriously and gets offended at the slightest thing, you won’t get it at all.  If you’re not, you will love it – you’ll laugh a lot, but it’ll make you think too.

Our hero is Herschel Greenbaum, who, along with his wife Sarah, decides to flee Eastern Europe after a pogrom at their shtetl.  They move to New York, in 1919, i.e. 100 years before most of the film is set.  The dates don’t work brilliantly, which may upset pedantic historians such as my good self, but anyway.  They’re expecting the American Dream, but, instead, Herschel can only get a job trying to kill rats at a pickle factory where workers get very low pay and health and safety regulations don’t exist.  One day, Herschel falls into a barrel of pickles, as you do, and apparently no-one – including his wife and child! – looks very hard for him.  The factory is condemned and abandoned, and Herschel remains in the pickle barrel for 100 years, until some kids messing around accidentally find the barrel and, hey presto, Herschel emerges into the present day, the same age as he was when he was, er, pickled, having been preserved perfectly by the brine.  Maybe don’t think too much about the science behind this 🙂 .

His wife and son are long dead.  His only grandson and granddaughter-in-law were killed in a car crash.  But there’s a great-grandson, Ben.  Herschel asks his great-grandson to take him to Sarah’s grave – but the part of the cemetery it’s in is no longer used, it’s derelict and overgrown, and there are even advertising hoardings there.  Someone’s putting up an advert for Cossack vodka.  Herschel loses his rag and attacks them.  He and Ben are arrested.

Herschel demands to know why Ben hasn’t been looking after the family graves, and why no-one seems to care that a cemetery, which should be a revered place, has been allowed to become waste ground – and this is something that does happen in real life.  It transpires that Ben hasn’t been doing anything much for the last five years other than working on his computer, trying to get “ethical” investors for an internet business.  Now, his final hopes are dashed, because he’s been arrested, so “ethical” businesses won’t touch him, because the arrest is the first thing that comes up when they Google his name.  He throws Herschel out.

Herschel, hurt but undeterred, buys a load of cheap cucumbers and some salt, collects a load of old jars, puts the cucumbers and salt in the jars, lets the jars fill up with rainwater, and sets himself up as a street vendor.  It catches on – because he’s recycling jars and using 100% natural ingredients.  People in New York love it.  Long queues form at his stall.  Videos of him go viral.  Everyone wants to buy his stuff.  But, hey, he then gets closed down by the New York equivalent of the Food Standards Agency, because he’s violating ten zillion health and safety protocols.  Oh dear.

He gets going again, but then he’s told that he needs to promote the business by going on Twitter, and, preferably, proving that he’s being “inclusive” by “reaching out” to different demographic groups.  He posts things which are typical for someone from his background – 100 years ago – and aren’t meant to be the slightest bit offensive; but, of course, next thing you know, he’s being accused of being sexist, homophobic, ableist and everything else-ist.  Young virtue-signalling snowflakes besiege his stall, and he’s “cancelled” on line.  Meanwhile, right-wingers hail him as a defender of free speech and applaud him for exploring the boundaries of the First Amendment, which he understands about as much as Prince Harry does, and even call for him to run for political office.  Celebs on both sides decide that they’re experts on it all, and have their say.  It’s all over the papers.  It’s debated on TV and social media.  It really is brilliant – – you can just imagine this happening.

He doesn’t get any of it.  He was just trying to sell pickles.

He then manages also to alienate the Christian right.  When asked about whether public schools should promote Christianity, he expresses opinions about Christianity which would make perfect sense to someone from an early 20th century Jewish shtetl under attack from Cossacks, but obviously don’t to American Christian right-wingers.  So now nearly everyone’s got it in for him, and – in bit of a nod to Mr Trump’s views on immigrants? – he’s deported as a hate figure.

And all he was trying to do was sell pickles.

His great-grandson, feeling horribly guilty because, jealous of his success, he was the one who reported him to the food standards people and then encouraged him to go on Twitter, follows him to Eastern Europe (we’re never told exactly where it is).   They both end up back in New York, planning to set up some sort of business together.  Ben’s learnt some lessons about the importance of family ties and being a bit less obsessed with his computer and ethical investors, but Herschel’s a bit sad because he feels that, in America, no-one will ever forgive you if you’ve said something that didn’t meet with their approval.   It’s America, but it could happen in a lot of other places too, not least here.

As I said, it’ll make you think.  He wasn’t trying to upset anyone, and he wasn’t trying to make a point about anything.  He was just trying to sell pickles.  Very, very clever film.




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