Get this: A monster from Jewish legend, made of clay and brought to life with an ancient ritual, fights the Nazi war machine.
What is it? A horror/revenge fantasy (feature film) about a rabbi who, after his community flees Nazi Germany, decides he must stay behind so he can undermine the Third Reich from within using a magically animated creature.
Working title: Golem.
ESTABLISHING SCENE: Western Front, 1917. A young Jacob Meyer is fighting in the trenches of World War I alongside other German soldiers. When his unit is fleeing, under orders to withdraw, Jacob runs back to the front to dig out comrades whose pillbox exit was buried by a shell explosion. His commander, Leutnant Klein, yells at him as he runs back that the men in the pillbox were probably dead. When Jacob and the three pillbox soldiers return to the unit alive, Klein threatens to shoot Jacob for insubordination. However, one of the surviving soldiers, lighting a cigarette given to him by his comrades, tells Klein that he is the son of General Sprinckborn.
Instead of being executed, Jacob receives a medal for his bravery. In this sequence, Jacob’s family and fiancé can be introduced via photographs he shows his comrades in arms.
INCITING INCIDENT: Czechoslovakia, 1922. Four years after the war, a decorated Jacob Meyer is finishing rabbinical school in Prague when he learns of the assassination of German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau, the country’s most prominent Jewish official. Jacob’s academic adviser, Rabbi Herz, poses the question, “When the wicked can take down even so powerful a man, what can oppose them?” The answer: no real man at all. Herz tells Jacob it is time for some “special” training, and the scene fades.
DEBATE: Germany, 1937. Fifteen years later, Jacob Meyer is now an established rabbi back in Germany, and we see him interact with his family, his wife, his children, and the rest of his community. Signs of the rise of Nazi power surround them, and many Jews are trying to emigrate to other countries. When Jacob secures a promise of asylum in the Caribbean for all 300 Jews in his community, they begin to prepare for the transition. But, after they cross the border into France, news of the failure of the Évian Conference makes it clear to Jacob that German Jews as a whole will not be safe. He sends his family and community on to safety, reluctantly returning to Germany alone.
At the first train station in France, his wife asks him what one man can do, and Jacob responds by showing her the medal, which he still wears under his clothes. “Even if I cannot save the life of a single person, I must go back and try.”
PROMISE OF THE PREMISE: Between flashbacks to the “special” training Rabbi Herz gave Jacob after the assassination of Rathenau, we see Jacob gather the ingredients to create a golem. The flashbacks include background on the golem, the word’s origin in the Torah, references to the creature in the Talmud, and Medieval legends of golems that went bad.
Herz warns Jacob that the golem is a dangerous force that few men are wise enough to manage properly. Jacob is taught that each golem must be given a shem, or name, which is inscribed on the golem’s forehead. Only the person who created the golem can destroy it, by rubbing off the shem. During this exposition, we watch Jacob collecting ingredients for the golem.
FUN AND GAMES: Some mild comedy can lighten the dark mood during this montage of scenes. For example, a critical ingredient for the golem could be found only in a country shop surrounded by filthy pigs through which rabbi Jacob Meyer must negotiate his way.
As Jacob prepares for the ritual to animate the golem, signs of rising Nazi danger should become apparent in the background, until the Krystalnacht erupts and Jacob rushes to complete the animation ritual in a house in the ghetto where he has been working in secret. He hesitates over the finished creature, listening to the sounds of violence and screaming outside, then hastily scratches the shem “Neqamah” (נקמה, “revenge”) on the golem’s forehead as a racist mob begins beating on the door.
The rioters storm the house and are about to seize Jacob when the golem rises and, within minutes, brutally kills them all.
RISING ACTION: Jacob sends Neqamah out nightly to disrupt military manufacturing, destroy infrastructure, and wreak havoc by beating to death every uniformed Nazi it encounters. Despite the tendency of the golem to carry out his orders clumsily and brutally, Jacob is pleased with the effort until, returning from a raid on a Nazi warehouse, he and the golem cross railroad tracks just before a train rolls by.
When Jacob sees the train is filled with Jews, clothes tagged by yellow stars, he orders Neqamah to stop the train. It does so, to Jacob’s dismay by pounding on the side of the train until it derails. The train rolls onto its side and slides relatively gently to a stop. Jacob orders the golem to open all of the doors to free the prisoners.
VILLAIN LEARNS OF THE HERO: As the prisoners are escaping into the woods, Klein shows up, now a Major and sharing the lead car of a three-car motorcade with the man Jacob saved years before, who is now Oberst (Colonel) Sprinckborn. Since the escapees are on the other side of the derailed train, the only person they can see is Jacob, standing atop the train and scanning to make sure everyone is okay. Klein recognizes him and draws his service pistol, but Sprinckborn puts a hand on his arm.
For a moment, the audience is allowed to believe Sprinckborn intends to spare Jacob’s life, but the Colonel points with the cigarette in his other hand, toward a dark shape approaching fast from the woods. From the shadows, the golem attacks, utterly destroying the two rear cars of the motorcade and flinging Sprinckborn’s driver from the lead car before Klein takes the wheel and speeds off.
Jacob arrives to stop the golem from crushing the driver, and he asks the man where the train was going with all of these people. “To the camps,” is the answer. Jacob asks him for what. Before succumbing to his wounds, the soldier says, “For nothing. For extermination.”
SUBPLOT: Here we catch up with Klein and Sprinckborn, who have been hunting down saboteurs in the region, which they now understand are probably Jacob and his monster. Sprinckborn mentions that Hitler’s occultist adviser warned him about this sort of thing, and Klein suggests seeking experts in the golem among Jewish prisoners. Sprinckborn lights a cigarette and decides they will visit a work camp right over the hills “in the Sudetenland” to interview Jewish scholars interned there.
RISING TENSION: Meanwhile, Jacob begins stockpiling supplies confiscated from Nazis for escaped Jews to use, but he becomes increasingly disturbed at the brutality and clumsiness with which his creation carries out his orders. When he identifies the next train, rather than simply tell the golem to “stop” the train Jacob orders it to leap aboard the engine and engage the brake. It does this, pounding the only Nazi officer into the floor as the civilian crew leap from the train into the muddy ditch beside the tracks.
When Jacob reaches the front of the stopped train, the crew are cowering before the approaching golem, pleading that the Nazi officer had threatened to execute them if they did not do as they were told. Before Jacob can order the golem to wait, it attacks the crew in brutal fashion, removing their heads and limbs until they are nothing but a stack of body parts. Looking horrified as rain begins to fall, Jacob orders the golem to open the doors to free the prisoners, who are staring out at the gruesome scene with terrified eyes.
RAISING THE STAKES/MENTOR DIES: At the work camp in the former Czechoslovakia, guards bring an old man to a room where Klein and Sprinckborn are waiting. It is Rabbi Herz. As he is strapped to a chair, Klein tells him, “Do not worry, Rabbi. We just have a few simple questions.”
Sprinckborn lights a cigarette and says, “The Major is being overly kind. If you do not have the answers to our simple questions, you will have plenty cause to worry.”
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: At his secret safe-house, Jacob is considering Neqamah. For a moment, it seems as if he is about to rub the shem away and destroy the golem, but he hears the distant sound of a train whistle and it stops him. He grasps the medal around his neck, sighs, and orders the golem to listen closely.
“Neqamah. You must kill no Jews, and also kill no one who is not in a uniform. Unless I say.” As usual, the golem does not respond. Jacob orders it to follow him. The mission continues.
RISE TO CLIMAX: Jacob and the golem approach a train station from the woods in the dark, catching sight of the rear of the train just as it begins to move. Jacob orders the golem to grab the last car and drag the train to a stop. It races after the train and does as it is ordered, but the train overpowers it, dragging it through the end of the station and into the darkness. Jacob tries to follow, but the Nazis in the station, already alerted by the sight of the monster, begin shooting at him. He retreats into the woods and tries to run after the train through them, two Nazi soldiers in pursuit. We then see Klein and Sprinckborn at the station, obviously having watched the entire scene. Sprinckborn throws his cigarette down on the platform, steps on it, and calmly tells Klein to get the car.
The train finally comes to a stop a few hundred meters away, and the golem quickly kills two Nazi guards who had been futilely firing shots into its clay from the rear car. Having dispatched the guards, the golem lumbers up to the side of the train car and tears off its door.
Jacob manages to elude the Nazis chasing him through the woods but, when he arrives at the train, he sees a horrifying scene. Dozens of prisoners in camp uniforms are lying battered to death beside the train. On their uniforms are triangle badges rather than the yellow star badges worn by Jews: pink, brown, and black triangles. As Jacob stands there, dumbstruck, the two Nazi soldiers who had been chasing him race from the woods and seize him. Klein and Sprinckborn drive up. Klein laughs at the carnage and taunts Jacob: “I only wanted to see how a rabbi would like his golem freeing not Jews, but just a trainload of sexual deviants and worthless gypsies, but oh … Schütze Meyer, this outcome is so much better.”
Sprinckborn plays with a cigarette, saying: “You looked confused. You have saved us the trouble of exterminating these vermin ourselves. Or, are you wondering how we know about your Jewish monster? We paid a visit to your friend, Rabbi Herz. He answered some questions, and we relieved him of his worries. Permanently.”
A shuffling sound draws their attention, and Neqamah’s hulking form can be seen approaching from the far end of the train. Klein aims his pistol to Jacob’s head and tells him to order the golem to stop. “Don’t worry, I have no desire to kill you. We know that only you can command the golem, and we want to use it. Learn from it. Maybe one day, after the war is over, we’ll let you rejoin your family in whatever malarial jungle you’ve sent them to.” Jacob hesitantly orders Neqamah to stop as it comes into the light.
Sprinckborn: “Now, just to be safe, tell it to never kill another German.” Jacob complies: “Neqamah, never attack Germans.” Klein follows this: “Well, now that we have the weapon, we certainly don’t need all this riffraff knowing the secret.”
Klein casually shifts his aim from Jacob to one of the Nazi soldiers and shoots the man in the head, then aims at the soldier who is holding Jacob with his gun in his ribs. When Klein shoots him, the soldier’s gun is fumbled into Jacob hands. Jacob quickly aims and shoots Klein, first in the leg then in the chest. Sprinckborn tackles Jacob, knocking the gun from his hand and getting behind him. Scrambling for purchase, Sprinckborn finds the medal’s ribbon and begins choking Jacob with it.
Jacob is trying to call out to Neqamah, who stands impassively watching. Finally, he simply leans into the ribbon, and it snaps. Sprinckborn falls onto his back, momentarily stunned. Jacob scoops up the medal, trailing the broken ribbon, and leaps onto Sprinckborn. He stuffs it into the man’s mouth, who swallows the medal and begins choking. Jacob steps back, watching Sprinckborn as he gags with the ribbon’s end hanging from his mouth. Breathing hard, Jacob says: “Neqamah, retrieve my medal.”
The golem does just this, as clumsily and brutally as usual.
Having buried the prisoners he slaughtered, Neqamah awaits his master’s orders beside the stopped train.
Jacob reaches up to the monster’s forehead and smudges one letter from the shem, making it נקה (Qamah, “clear/cleanse”). As if under a torrent of water, the golem begins to wash away in streams of mud.
Pulling a photo of his wife from his pocket, Jacob whispers: “I have to stay. I have to find another way. It’s not over, yet.”