Tiger Within


written by  Gina Wendkos

A young skin head runs away from home to New York City where she is befriended by a Holocaust survivor.

Casey, 16, is a loner…and a lost soul in search of love. The film opens on her disastrous first day of school in Michigan suburbs where she is humiliated and disrespected.  At home, it’s not much better.  Her mother’s new boyfriend is an abusive drunk, while her mother, Marge, has good intentions but is ultimately weak.  When the boyfriend threatens to leave if Casey doesn’t, Marge sides with him and arranges for Casey to live with her estranged father in New York City.

Upon arrival at Kennedy Airport, Casey sees her father and his family before they see her.  She hears her three half-sisters and step-mother complain about her reputation as a trouble-maker and decides not to step forward. After a while, her father reluctantly leaves without her.  Casey can see the relief on his family’s faces. Now she is in New York alone.

She tells a cab driver to take her to a place “where no one will stare at me” and he drives her to the roughest part of town he knows.  She joins the rest of the bums, punks, junkies, and prostitutes and wanders the streets alone. It’s only a matter of time before her bag is stolen; she’s approached for sex; and she sleeps where she can, including a Jewish cemetery.

The next morning, Samuel Benz, a Holocaust survivor, is making his daily visit to his wife’s grave when he discovers Casey asleep on her tombstone. At first taken aback by the swastika covered jacket which covers her shoulders, he decides to wait for her to wake up.  When she awakes he invites her to eat and wash up at his apartment with no strings attached. She accepts the offer but is so exhausted that she eventually falls asleep in his bathtub.  The next morning she thanks him and returns to the streets.

Three months later, Casey is working in a massage parlor – jerking guys off for money.  She’s a little wiser now and number. She runs into Samuel a couple of times, then again on Christmas eve. Over dinner he reveals that he lost his two twin daughters in the camps and never had a chance to fulfill himself as a father… he then explains an old Chinese saying “embrace the tiger,” which means to learn to love ones fears “so you can control them and they not you.”

Taking this advice, Casey takes a cab to her father’s house in the suburbs. In a very awkward scene, he introduces Casey to his wife and three daughters. Later, Casey overhears his wife complaining about the new “trash” they’ve let into their house and what kind of “influence she’ll be on the girls.” Casey runs away again in the middle of the night…to Samuel’s house in the city, where she angrily confronts the old man for telling her to go in the first place.  Samuel quickly comforts her and offers her his house as a new home.  The only “catch” is that she must take the swastika off her jacket, and start going to school. She agrees.

The school won’t let Casey register without signatures from one of her real parents, so Samuel and Casey take the train to Michigan together to confront her mother and the boyfriend. Marge reluctantly agrees to sign Casey away. On the train back to New York, Casey asks Samuel why he’s going to all this trouble. He answers that he once made a promise to his wife to stop hating, and that initially he hated Casey…”You were the challenge God presented me that day in the graveyard… if I’d learn not to hate you, a child in a swastika, then I could learn to forgive all before I die.”

At school, Casey excels in poetry and makes friends with a young man named Tony.  Before going on a date with Tony, Samuel helps Casey “prepare” by buying her a dress, some stockings and shoes. The date goes well. Later, Samuel takes Casey to a health clinic to have “the talk” with health counselors.

One summer day, Casey and Tony begin having sex on the beach.  At the same time, Samuel is viciously attacked near his Temple by a gang of skinhead punks.  Casey finds him in the hospital later that day. He is close to death. Within the next few days his condition deteriorates and Casey begins to withdraw back into herself, avoiding Tony, neglecting the apartment, sleeping in the bathtub like her first night there. When Samuel finally dies, she completely reverts back to her old ways…including the massage parlor.

In the parlor, about to “work” on some guy, Casey comes to a revelation and quickly bolts during the middle of the “session.”  She goes to the cat section in the Bronx Zoo and sticks her hand in between the bars of a tiger’s cage in order to test her fear.  The tiger roars at first, then licks her hand lovingly.  Casey has embraced her fears.