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SUBJECTS — World/Israel, Germany, WWII/Germany/Holocaust;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Sexual Orientation; Breaking Out;

Age: 14+; MPAA Rating -- R for some language including sexual references, and for brief nudity; Drama; 2004, 103 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

This fascinating study of grief, guilt, and emotional growth is useful in history and ELA classes. It has a gay man in a positive leading role.

Description: Eyal is a Mossad assassin trying to recover emotionally from the suicide of his wife. He is assigned to pose as a tour guide keeping watch over Axel, a young German whose grandfather evaded responsibility for murdering thousands during the Holocaust. Axel is gay. He is in Israel to encourage his sister, now living on a Kibbutz, to return to Germany for their father's 70th birthday party. Neither knows that their grandfather is alive and will attend the celebration returning to Germany from his hiding place in South America. As the story progresses Eyal and Axel become friends despite Eyal's homophobia and each discovers something new about himself.

Rationale for Using the Movie: Walk on Water presents a story of interest to students learning about the Holocaust and to anyone living in countries resisting terrorism, especially the U.S., Israel, and the nations of Western Europe. The movie will be of special interest to Germans in its exploration of the reaction of young generations to the Holocaust. The story has engaging universal themes and provides an opportunity to analyze the literary devices of character development and irony.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will gain perspective about the costs of assassination as a tool in the war on terror. They will work through an interesting psychological study of grief and guilt while also experiencing a story with a homosexual man in a leading role and a straight man who sheds his homophobia. Students will sharpen their discussion and research skills while analyzing the literary elements of the story.

Possible Problems: Minor. There is discussion about gay sex and circumcision. The conversation is appropriate for the story and has humor value.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:

            For All Classes
            For ELA Classes
            For Social Studies Classes

      After Watching Discussion Questions



Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Other Sections:
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.

Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.


Introduction for All Classes

Students watching this film should generally be aware of the Holocaust, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and the question of how Germans of today react to the genocide perpetrated by their grandparents and great grandparents.

Before showing the movie make sure that the following facts are fresh in the minds of students. This can be done by asking the class for this information using the questions set out below, having students research the questions, or by direct instruction telling students the substance of the suggested answers.
    Question #1: What happened to gays in Germany during WWII? Suggested Response: They were put in the concentration camps and many died. [Teachers may want to also point out or elicit from the class the information that during the Holocaust the Nazis didn't just kill approximately 6,000,000 Jews. They also murdered another 5,000,000 other "undesirables" such as Poles, the Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, political opponents (democrats, socialists and communists), and the religious (of all denominations).]

    Question #2: What are skinheads and what do they represent? Skinheads are thugs who revere Hitler and want to implement the policies of the Nazis. They often terrorize and beat minorities and homosexuals.

    Question #3: What is a kibbutz? A kibbutz is a communal farm. The kibbutzim (plural for kibbutz) were instrumental in the founding of the state of Israel because they provided a framework for people from different places to work together in agricultural enterprises. In this film, there is a character who works and lives on a kibbutz.

Introduction for ELA Classes (all classes will benefit)

Before showing the film, give the following introduction to the class or hand out and have students read the ELA Handout.

This movie takes place in Israel and Germany in modern times. The two main characters in the film are Eyal, an undercover agent for the Israeli intelligence service, and Axel, a young man from Germany who has come to Israel as a tourist. Eyal's mother barely escaped from Nazi Germany during the Holocaust and many of her family members and friends were killed. Eyal was brought up to hate everything German.

The title of the movie, "Walk on Water" is taken from the following scene. Eyal is assigned to pose as a tour guide and escort Axel to various sites around the country. He takes Axel to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Axel walks out into the sea on a submerged rock or piece of concrete that is just below the water level. It looks as if he is walking on water. Then he falls in and gets wet. Eyal is watching from the shore and they have this exchange:
    Eyal: [sarcastically] Bravo. You did it!

    Axel: You don't understand. You can't just come to the Sea of Galilee and start walking on water. If you could, everybody would be doing it. You need 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.
In the alternative, stop the film at this scene and replay it for students, telling them that this is the scene that gives the movie its title and provides important clues to its central theme.

Introductory Discussion for Social Studies Classes (all classes will benefit)

There are several scenes in the film in which a Palestinian character is an important figure. A discussion about the origins of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and the contributions of other countries, including Germany, to that conflict will be a helpful introduction to the movie. Discussion prompts and suggested points that should be covered are set out below.

The question for discussion is: "What were the contributions of Continental Europe, Russia, Islamic countries in the Middle East, the Israelis, and the Palestinians to the creation of the current conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians?"

Teachers should make sure that the points set out below are covered in the discussion. If necessary, supply the information.
  • Continental Europe, especially Germany: Many countries throughout the world, including the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia, despite some past anti-Semitism, have made their Jewish citizens feel welcome and have allowed them to be productive members of society. These countries have benefitted tremendously from the contributions of their Jewish citizens. Other countries, chiefly continental Europe before and during WWII, and to some extent after the war, have made Jews feel unwanted. Before the Second World War Jews had lived in Europe for centuries. Before the war and the Holocaust, only a small minority of Jews would have wanted to move to Palestine. The vast majority would have happily continued to make their lives in the countries in which they were born and raised. It was the Holocaust perpetrated by the Germans and the refusal of other nations of continental Europe to accept Jews into society that caused Jews to leave these countries. Hundreds of thousands moved to Palestine and after WWII established the state of Israel. Thus, the existence of a large Jewish population in Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state is directly linked to the Holocaust and to anti-Semitism in continental Europe.

  • Russia: Jews were also discriminated against in Russia. Many Russian Jews emigrated to Palestine before 1948; however emigration from Russia was limited by the Russian government until the 1970s. Since then more than 1,000,000 Russian Jews have emigrated to Israel. Again, Russia, because of its unwillingness or inability to allow people who have lived within its borders for centuries to feel accepted, has substantially contributed to the Israeli population. This is not a factor contributing to the creation of the State of Israel, but is it is a factor contributing to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The Palestinians would certainly say so because having another million Israelis to contend with makes the Palestinian's situation worse.

  • Muslim Countries in the Middle East: Since the founding of the state of Israel Jews have been expelled or have felt threatened in most Islamic Middle Eastern countries. Many have settled in Israel. Moreover, many of the Arab countries have large Palestinian refugee camps in which displaced Palestinian families have lived for more than 60 years. These countries have refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. In addition, the Muslim countries fund terrorist organizations and use hatred of Israel in large part as a way to divert popular discontent from economic and social problems that the elites of these countries are unwilling or unable to solve.

  • The Israelis: Given that there is a need for a Jewish state, the Israelis have failed to acknowledge the injustice that displacing the Palestinians has caused. Israel continues place settlements on Palestinian land. Israel presents a hard and aggressive stance toward the Palestinians giving the terrorists added recruits with each new settlement or crackdown.

  • The Palestinians: By refusing to accept the fact that there are millions of Israelis now living in what was formerly Palestine and that they are not going to leave, by failing to compromise, and by resorting to terrorism, the Palestinians have missed historic opportunities to resolve the conflict. This is a colossal failure of leadership. Where is the Palestinian equivalent of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, or Martin Luther King, leaders who had the vision to solve seemingly intractable problems with non-violence? Why don't the Palestinian people insist on such leadership rather than going down the dead-end road of terrorism? There are many instances of non-violent mass action leading to political and social change. [For several examples, click here.] If the Palestinians accepted the existence of the state of Israel, renounced violence, and adopted a strategy of non-violent mass action against the Israelis, wouldn't public opinion in the U.S. and in Israel require concessions that would get the Palestinians the best deal possible and allow everyone in the area to live in peace?


Discussion Questions for After Watching the Film

Note that all well-reasoned responses are acceptable.

For Social Studies Classes: Questions 1 - 3 & 5 below, as well questions 6 - 11 in the Supplemental Materials are appropriate for Social Studies Classes. These discussion questions provide opportunities for cross-curricular instruction.

For ELA Classes

                    A. Theme

1.   The title and the following dialog provide assistance in deriving one of the themes of the film. This exchange occurs when Axel falls into the Sea of Galilee after telling Eyal that he was going to walk on water.
    Eyal: [sarcastically] Bravo. You did it!

    Axel: You don't understand. You can't just come to the Sea of Galilee and start walking on water. If you could, everybody would be doing it. You need 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.

Describe how this dialog relates to an important theme of the movie. Suggested Response: Purity (being clean from the inside with no negativity or bad thoughts), in the sense used in this film is to live in a right relation with the world. Axel cannot be pure and allow his grandfather to live because that would implicate him in the Holocaust. He cannot be pure and allow his friend Eyal to take on the guilt of having killed another person. Eyal cannot live a clean life with no negativity or bad thoughts and continue to kill nor can he continue with his homophobia having come to know Axel as a person. Pia, like Axel, must disassociate herself from her family's Nazi past. She leaves Germany and goes to live in Israel for this purpose. Once an individual lives cleanly with no negativity or bad thoughts, that is, once an individual achieves a right relation with the world, life is a miracle and, metaphorically, he or she can then "walk on water".

2.   Identify some other themes of the film. Suggested Response: These include: (1) An assassin even for a good cause has no peace of mind. The assassin runs the risk, in the last words of Eyal's wife, of killing everything he touches. While Axel at the end of the film assassinates his grandfather, he does not lose his peace of mind. This is because his grandfather is not only a criminal (as were the people killed by Eyal), his grandfather was also a member of Axel's family which tried to implicate Axel in grandfather's crimes. If Axel had not taken action against the old man, Axel would have been implicated in the Holocaust and unable to free himself from the taint of his family. (Actually, instead of killing the war criminal, Axel should have informed the German authorities and let them handle the situation. Axel's father and mother might have been prosecuted for concealing a criminal, but they were guilty of that crime and should have paid the price.) (2) Homosexuals are human and coming to know a homosexual demonstrates the absurdity of homophobia. (3) Family loyalty has limits and crimes of family members cannot be condoned or excused. Encourage students to come up with more themes from the film.

3. What was the purpose for including the Palestinian character, Rafik. Suggested Response:Generally, the scenes with Rafik advance the plot by showing Axel's homosexuality and Eyal's homophobia. The incident with the coat shows the hypocrisy of those Israelis who object to anti-Semitism but allow themselves to hate Palestinians. It also shows how the Germans are willing to forgive a Palestinian merchant for his petty cheat, which is reasonable given the central role that Germany played in convincing the surviving European Jews that they were not safe in Europe, thus indirectly causing the displacement of many Palestinians.

                    B. Character Development

4.      How did the characters of Axel and Eyal change over the course of the story and what caused those changes? Suggested Response:

    Eyal: The factors which motivated Eyal to change were the suicide of his wife, the emotional toll that the life of an assassin took on him, coming to know Axel, and being confronted with an assault by skinheads on Axel's gay and transvestite friends. Sick of a life devoid of meaning, except to kill, and no longer able to deny his feelings, Eyal realized that he couldn't kill again and had an emotional breakdown. He needed to completely reorganize his emotional life, which he did by marrying Pia. In the extended metaphor of the film, by refusing to kill any more and by becoming a nurturing father, Eyal has brought himself into a right relation with the world and can now live the miracle of life, i.e., "walk on water".

    Axel: This gentle gay man who teaches little children and loves female voices starts to change when Pia tells him that their parents were complicit in hiding their grandfather, a Nazi war criminal. His anger starts to show as he participates in the fight with the skinheads who have attacked his friends. Axel then confronts his family by suggesting the Israeli folk dance at his father's birthday party. He then discovers that Eyal is an Israeli intelligence agent assigned to kill his grandfather. The climax of the movie occurs when Axel realizes that he must decide whose side he is on: that of the Nazis or of well-meaning people. He decides and kills his grandfather. By that time in the world of this film, he is an avenging angel, capable of murder. In being able to kill the war criminal and in rejecting the Nazi (and anti-gay as well as anti-Jewish) past of his family, Axel has brought himself into a right relation with the world without negativity and bad thoughts; he can now live the miracle of life and, like Eyal and Pia, "walk on water".

                    C. Irony

5.   Identify some of the ironies in this story. Suggested Response: Here are some. There may be more.

    A. At the beginning of the film, Eyal and Axel appear to be completely different. One is a gay German who teaches little children and loves female singers; he is hardly a killer. The other is a hardened assassin who kills fathers in front of their young children without apparent regret. However, Eyal and Axel have at least one very important thing in common: homosexuals as well as Jews were killed in Hitler's concentration camps. Both ethnicity and sexual orientation are not choices individuals make and both are subject to prejudice.

    B. At the beginning of the film Eyal is presented as a man of steel, who can kill fathers in front of their young children and then celebrate with Champagne. Axel is just the opposite: a man of softness, caring and emotion. But in fact, it is Axel who is emotionally stronger. When asked to kill the old man, Eyal realizes that the way he has structured his life in the past will no longer work and that he cannot kill any more. It is Axel who turns off his grandfather's oxygen and who comforts his new friend, Eyal, who is overcome by the realization of all that he has lost. In short, at the end of the film it is the formerly gentle gay man who kills and retains his composure and the trained assassin who refuses to kill and needs comforting.

    C. Traditionally, Germans have been thought of as prejudiced and Jews the victims of that prejudice However, in this film it is Eyal who is prejudiced against Palestinians and gays.

    D. The skinheads think that they have easy prey when they assault Axel's friends in the subway tunnel; however, the fight didn't turn out as they expected.

    E. Eyal the hardened killer cannot emotionally deal with the death of his wife.

For ten additional discussion questions, click here.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as an essay prompt. Additional assignments include:

For all Subject Areas:

1. Using Internet research, find information about the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Create a time line of events that have occurred since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. When you reach the current date, speculate as to what may happen next. Continue the time line to an imagined resolution that to you seems likely. Write a one page essay stating the reasons for the likelihood of the resolution that you have imagined, citing events in your time line.

2. Imagine that it has been three years since Axel killed his grandfather. Write a letter from Axel to his father in which Axel reveals that he has killed the old war criminal and explains why that action was necessary in order for Axel to live in a right relation with the world. It is in this letter that Axel will come out and tell his father he is gay. Describe whether or not Axel has any regrets for what he has done. In your letter, use the central insight of the film, i.e., to fully experience the miracle of life (to "walk on water") you must "purify yourself. Your heart needs to be like it's clean from the inside: no negativity, no bad thoughts."

3. Write a letter from Pia to her son on his tenth birthday in which she reveals to him that his great-grandfather was a war criminal and that Axel killed him. Explain why Pia has severed her ties with her parents and chosen to live in Israel with Eyal. Describe whether or not Pia has regrets about what she has done and her perspective on what Axel did when he killed the old war criminal. In the letter, use the central insight of the film, i.e., to fully experience the miracle of life (to "walk on water") you must "purify yourself. Your heart needs to be like it's clean from the inside: no negativity, no bad thoughts."

4. Write a formal analytic essay on the growth of character experienced by Eyal and Axel. Seek to determine what may be responsible for each change and conclude your essay with an opinion about how their lives have been enriched or diminished by these changes.

See also Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Parenting Points: Watch the movie with your child and discuss the issues raised in the discussion questions.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

This Learning Guide written by James Frieden and Mary RedClay and was published on December 31, 2013.

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