50/50: On the Film and the Odds We Play During the High Holidays


If you have cancer, you can still be a jerk. While caring for a dying friend, you can still be preoccupied with getting laid. You can devote your life to sick family members and still be totally, totally annoying.

These are some of the lessons from the film 50/50.

Lucky for all of us, it’s possible to be imperfect and still be loved, still build relationships of all sorts, still create something new for tomorrow. During the Days of Awe, that period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are supposed to be introspective, meditating on those imperfections. We are supposed to apologize to those we’ve wronged, knowingly or not. We are imperfect, but what we do, particularly during these days, may ‘annul the evil decree.’

In 50/50, the countdown is not to Yom Kippur (and the sealing of the Book of Life), but to an event related to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cancer. As you hear in every promo for the film, he’s got a 50/50 chance of survival and we don’t know if he’ll make it. Even in these extreme moments, they – and we – have both sides, the divine and the flawed. 50/50 chance of survival, but maybe also 50/50 divine/flawed.

We are so much more human in those moments, not playing at perfection. Truly, we don’t always care that someone else is having a bad day. Sometimes we like to gossip about that person who is kind of a snot anyway. And those three extra steps to the recycling bin were just three too many.

I loved this movie for many reasons, but one was that the only person who really loses in the film is the one who is not truthful. I think what can make these Days of Awe immediately consequential is that we can use them as a reminder to stop bullshitting ourselves. To take stock of where we are reaching towards the divine and where we have been contentedly schmucks. And then see who still wanted us around anyway.

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