I read and reviewed the book Greenhorn a couple of years ago so I was intrigued to see how the story translated to film. My verdict: brilliantly!
The film begins in 1981 at a medical center in Jerusalem. Two old friends are seeing each other for the first time in thirty-five years. One is a doctor; the other a rabbi. The rabbi asks a haunting question, "What about the box?"
The film transitions back to Brooklyn in 1946 when the two old friends were young students. Aaron's teacher tells the class that twenty boys will be arriving from Poland. The boys are refugees, displaced by the horrors of WWII. For the classroom full of American boys the war is over. It didn't really affect them, but not so for Daniel, the boy they taunt as a "Greenhorn."
Daniel carries a tin box with him everywhere he goes. One of his fellow students compares it to the way his three-year-old sister carries around her security blanket. Most of the other students torment Daniel, not in a sophisticated way, but in a way typical of middle school. They call him names and point out that he's different, but Daniel is not the only boy they bully. Aaron, a boy who stutters, is also a target. He's called "Gravelmouth."
The film and the book are about the friendship that develops between the Greenhorn and the Gravelmouth. Aaron, the stutterer, finds his voice and sticks up for his friend. We learn what is in the box: soap. It's all Daniel has left of his family. They were murdered by the Nazis and the fat from their bodies turned into soap.
The horror of that revelation brings us back to the beginning of the film, when the rabbi asks the doctor, "What about the box?" I highly recommend you watch the film to find out!