Walk on WaterWalk on Water. Directed by Eyton Fox. Tel Aviv, Israel: Lama Films, 2004. American distribution by Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films. (2004), an award-winning Israeli film shot in Turkey, Israel, and Germany, takes on difficult subjects with verve and humor. The film explores deep divisions and oppositions, and offers an astonishing, if impracticable, way to overcome them: by walking on water. Yes, we get to learn what that could mean. Walk on Water has lots of heart: But is its heart—and its head—in the right place?
Images of division figure prominently in the film, which begins with a Mossad agent, Eyal, on assignment in Turkey to assassinate a Hamas leader. The action begins on board a ferry in the Bosporus Straight, the boundary between East and West, Asia and Europe. A second, recurring image of division is the Fernsehturm or Soviet TV tower in former East Berlin. Eyal places a microphone in a souvenir replica of the tower in a German woman’s apartment in Israel. Later, we see the imposing tower itself.
The motif of division supports the film’s numerous oppositions: Israelis/Palestinians; Germans/Jews; straight/gay; tenderness/toughness; conflicting attitudes of three generations of Germans; and moral conflicts about killing that occur both between and within the two principal characters.
The manly and laconic Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi) develops qualms about his vocation. He returns home from the Turkey mission—in which he carried out the hit (a walk-by, “Excuse me,” lethal injection) in front of the terrorist’s wife and son—to find his own wife has committed suicide by overdose. She left a note whose contents are not revealed until much later. The tearful faces of the Arab boy and Eyal’s own wife haunt him throughout the film.
After a negative psychological evaluation and poor performance on the gun range his supervisor, Menachem (Gidon Shemer), pulls Eyal from rough service, over Eyal’s objections, and assigns him to accompany a German brother and sister who are meeting up in Israel: Axel and Pia Himmelman (Knut Berger and Caroline Peters).
Menachem orders Eyal to relax, enjoy himself and get close to the siblings, to learn anything he can about their grandfather, an ex-Nazi officer responsible for wiping out the Jewish population in a region of Germany. The Israelis suspect the man is still alive and living in exile, and that Axel and Pia’s wealthy parents have remained in contact with him. Pia lives on a kibbutz; Axel will visit her from Berlin. (While there he tries to persuade her to attend her father’s 60th birthday party.)
A peeved Eyal posing as Axel’s tour guide picks him up at the airport. As they ride in Eyal’s Land Rover Eyal begins to despise Axel as a liberal nudnik—all the worse because he’s German. When Eyal expresses anger over a recent Palestinian suicide bombing on an Israeli bus Axel asks Eyal if he has ever considered the Palestinians’ point of view, of what would drive them to such desperate acts. Eyal will have none of it: “They are animals. There is nothing to think about.” The two men are oil and water.
As they drive, Eyal asks if Axel would like to hear some music. Axel hands him a CD of Israeli folk dancing music that he has been teaching his children. Eyal is repelled by this cloying stuff and removes the CD. When he opens the glove box a 1911 model .45 semi-automatic pistol rests unholstered, to Axel’s evident alarm. (Some tour guides they have here!) He offers The Doors’ Morrison Hotel, or, “the Boss?” In goes the CD and “Tunnel of Love” blasts away as they barrel through the Israeli landscape.
Eyal takes Axel to visit the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water. “So, this is where it all happened,” Axel says, and walks into the water on a log. “Hey, Jesus. They lied to you. It’s impossible to walk on walk,” Eyal amusedly cries after him. After Axel finally tumbles off the log and returns to the beach, to Eyal’s applause, a thumbs up and “Bravo—you did it!” he says, “You don’t understand. You can’t just come to the Sea of Galilee and start walking on water. If you could do that, everyone would be doing it. You have to prepare yourself.”
Eyal: “And how would you do that? Please, enlighten me.”
Axel: “Well, you need to completely purify yourself. Your heart needs to be like it’s clean from the inside. No negativity, no bad thoughts.”
Eyal: “And then?”
Axel: “And then you can walk on water. I’m sure of it.”
The reaction shot indicates that while Eyal remains skeptical, he is intrigued by Axel’s words.
At a restaurant Axel picks up a Palestinian waiter, Rafik (Yusef Sweid). Without telling the others where they are going that night (“Come on, it’ll be fun. It’s the biggest party in town”) Eyal and Pia are subjected to a crowded gay disco where Axel dances erotically with Rafik. While Pia seems to enjoy herself an uncomfortable Eyal leaves the nightclub to go home.
In a Mossad team meeting Eyal’s jocular colleague, Jello, asks, when told about Axel: “A homo homo? Did he make a pass at you?” He seconds Eyal’s request to be taken off “this silly Nazi shit” that “no one cares about anymore” and reassigned to his old line of work at which he excels. But no one suggests pushing Axel off a rooftop, as would be the case in Islamic countries.
Rafik joins the threesome for a trip to a Palestinian market, to which Eyal reluctantly takes them. Eyal points out the wall where Palestinian snipers fired on Israelis in 1948. Further, he creates an incident when he accuses a merchant (Rafik’s uncle) of overcharging Axel for an overcoat. Eyal demands that the man return most of the money. He actually takes it from him and counts it out. Eyal and Pia seem like the parents squiring around their wayward and immature son, Axel. In another scene we learn that Pia is put off by Axel pushing his flamboyant gay lifestyle on others.
After Eyal dropped off Rafik, he knocked on the car window to tell Eyal something. He said words to the effect: “You Jews are so consumed by your sense of victimhood that you are blind to the plight of others.” At the airport Axel invites Eyal to visit him in Berlin but Eyal says that he has never been to Germany and never wants to go there.
Meanwhile recordings taken from the bugging device in Pia’s apartment reveal that she, unlike her brother, knew her parents had remained in touch with Grandfather and had quarreled with them about it. That is why she left Germany and refuses to return now. Menachem hands Eyal a plane ticket to Berlin.
When Eyal appears on a Berlin street across from the school where Axel teaches (those students are “his children”) to visit a surprised Axel, the friendship accelerates. Axel is wearing the coat, for which he sent Rafik the rest of the money. Eyal has brought Axel a CD of the Israeli folk dancing music that Axel likes. He says, with a touch of humor, that listening to female singers has made him weak and that Axel wouldn’t believe how the merchant looked at him when he asked for the CD.
Axel takes him, once again, to a gay bar where Eyal asks questions about gay sex. He is idly curious and not in the least hostile; their conversation is friendly and humorous. Is Eyal feigning interest in Axel as a person for the sake of the mission?
Eyal stays at Axel’s parents’ estate. The haughty mother views Eyal with suspicion because he is Israeli. The house bustles with activity for the birthday party she has planned.
Eyal and Axel eat currywursts at a kiosk and go for coffee to a diner that overlooks a wide avenue where automobile races were held in the 1930s. Eyal asks if Hitler and his people were in attendance and Axel says that they were. Eyal says that when he visited Germany on a field trip as a student he would approach older men who must have been in the war and ask them, “Where were you when my family was burned in the camps?”
Menachem is there; he gets up and walks over to their table. Eyal introduces him under an alias, then Menachem speaks to Eyal in Hebrew. Eyal goes on to tell Axel, “You won’t believe this, that man was a friend of my parents.” It seems that Eyal’s parents once lived in Berlin. But Menachem has come to give Eyal instructions: the mission to apprehend the grandfather is on.
The most exciting scene in the film occurs when Axel and Eyal enter the U-Bahn. They encounter friends of Axel, a mixed-race group of freakish looking transvestites. They are friendly and take on over Eyal’s handsome good looks. Eyal is friendly in return. After Axel and Eyal leave the group, they hear screams and run back to investigate. A group of white toughs who were kicking around a bottle when the two men entered the U-Bahn are beating up the trannies.
Axel tries to help but is knocked to the floor. Eyal steps in and wins after a vicious fight. When one of the men comes at him with a broken bottle, Eyal pulls out a semi-automatic pistol, racks the slide, points it at him and tells the man in perfect German, “Fuck off, asshole, or I’ll blow your brains out.”
So . . . he’s a martial artist! he’s carrying a gun! he speaks German! Axel, naïvely, fails to suspect anything is amiss and accepts Eyal’s weak explanation for the gun. Axel says “It’s too bad you didn’t kill him. Those people pollute the world.” Not such a peacenik after all, it seems, as long as violence is turned against bad Germans.
At the birthday party, the mother has a special surprise in store for her husband. After the assembled guests sing and toast, his father, the old and infirm ex-Nazi, is rolled out in a wheelchair by a nurse. Later an appalled Axel has words with his mother who scolds him for his insolence.
During the festivities Eyal slips away and drives to Menachem’s hotel. Eyal thinks the plan is to abduct the old man, to take him back to Israel for trial. Not so. Menachem tells him: “Terminate him. Get him before God does” and hands him the poison injection kit. Eyal protests, but to no avail.
Eyal returns to the house and enters the old man’s bedroom. As Eyal, needle in hand, stands over the sleeping man we see Axel appear behind him in the doorway. At the last moment Eyal cannot bring himself to do it; he turns around and walks out of the room, silently and without glancing at Axel. (In Eyal’s absence Axel found photographs of himself, his sister, and grandfather in his Nazi uniform inside Eyal’s folder.)
Axel takes over Eyal’s position by the bed. He looks at his grandfather, whom he has met for the first time that evening, kisses him on the forehead, and turns off the oxygen, killing the old man, who awakes with a start, gasps a little, then closes his eyes. This time the German kills by turning off the gas!
Axel then joins Eyal in his room where the two sit, side by side on the edge of the bed. They display an easy familiarity with each other; we can tell the friendship is genuine. Eyal explains that his wife committed suicide shortly before Axel arrived in Israel because, she said in her note, “You kill everything around you.” “I don’t want to kill anymore,” Eyal says, placing his head in Axel’s lap. For the first time, he cries. Eyal was unable to cry before and used eyedrops to moisten his eyes.
In the final scene Eyal, now married to Pia and a new father, composes an email to Axel, begging him and his German boyfriend (judging by the name) to visit and “do the loving uncle thing.” “I have become a sleepless slave, thanks to you and Pia and all this talk of babies,” he writes. Eyal then reports a dream he had wherein he followed Axel, whose hand was outstretched, across the water. “And I was doing it. I was walking on water. And I felt good . . . just good.” And so the film ends.
The tough and the tender, killer and pacifist, reversed roles. One could argue that both men achieved virtue, conceived as the Aristotelian golden mean, by performing actions that ran contrary to their own tendencies. Eyal refrained from killing, while Axel toughened up and killed. Eyal and Axel grew emotionally and found balance in their own lives as a result of their agonistic friendship.
The film raises two main questions. First, when, if ever, is killing human beings morally justified? Examples in the film include terrorism, assassinating terrorists, and killing ex-Nazis who participated in exterminations. These questions cannot be resolved without ethical argument.
The second question is: Does the film’s theme of healing divisions through emotional cleansing and renewal extend beyond the personal to the political sphere? There is little chance that it does. Since race and ethnicity are central to people’s identities, no amount of walking on water will heal those deepest of divisions. A handful of individuals in our film found happiness and peace in their own lives. But we can’t logically form general rules from individual, especially atypical, cases even if the marriage in this film is a success.
Difference is the enemy of harmony. In a world of divisions, the only way to resolve ethnic conflicts is to establish homogeneous homelands for all peoples who seek self-determination.
Germans, and Europeans wherever they live, should get over their (weaponized) sense of guilt, embrace their identity and reclaim their homelands. Had Eyal visited Germany in 2015 or later he would have found a country beset by mass rape and terrorism perpetrated by Muslim migrants. Events have caught up with the film.
Some viewers will regard the marriage of Eyal and Pia as a sinister metaphor for ethnic mixing and miscegenation: “solving” an ethnic conflict by blending both sides, or one side, out of existence. Several points in response to this charge.
First, Eyal is European-looking. Both the German customs agent and bartender looked askance at him once they learned he was Israeli; they couldn’t tell from his looks alone. Second, Eyal and Pia have similar temperaments and get along well. Third, the baby is blond!
Still, the criticism has merit. Whose interests, besides the two individuals, are served by this marriage? Neither Germany’s nor Israel’s. Pia remained in Israel, unreconciled with her family and country. What allegiances will her child have? By contrast, Axel went from xenophile to in-groupist, at least in his sexual preferences. By the same token, he killed his own grandfather. Like Pia, Eyal found peace within himself but married outside his ethnic group.
In conclusion, the film raises more questions than it answers. Despite that, Walk on Water is poignant and enjoyable, the characters likeable and sympathetic, the action riveting.
Attaining peace of mind requires getting in touch with—rather than extirpating—one’s true feelings, including one’s in-born ethnocentrism. Whites who cease being at war with themselves can turn their energies outward and fight for their own people and civilization, all the while maintaining purity of heart and clarity of vision. When that happens we too will walk on water. And we will feel good. Just good.
 Walk on Water. Directed by Eyton Fox. Tel Aviv, Israel: Lama Films, 2004. American distribution by Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films.