Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Sophie Scholl: The final days (Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage) (DVD) 2005

University students make excellent protesters and activists; Max Weber would have argued that university students, by virtue of their privileged position as state-sponsored intellectuals, are morally bound to be protesters and activists against the state. Yet there exists a problem of evil in academia: Why, if there is a moral duty to protest, do most students across nations and cultures remain largely apathetic?

Such is the uncomfortable position the members of the White Rose society find themselves in, during the final year of World War II. While the immorality of the war and Germany's impending defeat is clear to Sophie Scholl and her collaborators, it is likely that the general silence, fear or even apathy in the German public and their classmates provide that impetus towards their daring acts of resistance. We're not talking about terrorist acts or sabotage here, but a coordinated effort to blanket major German cities with fiercely written, relentlessly logical, and morally couched anti-Hitler missives. (Where else do you think "impeach him, impeach him now!!! came from?)

Understandably, the Gestapo is not amused and when the happy group make a mistake during the dissemination of their 6th pamphlet, Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans are in for a world of pain. To be more exact, the high treason leading to capital punishment type of pain.

Much of this movie is set in the Munich Stadelheim Prison, where criminologist Robert Mohr interrogates Sophie Scholl over many sessions. This sort of set up normally makes for a good play and a bad movie; coupled with Julia Jentsch's too-reverent portrayal of the title character as a diffident and moralistic political martyr, it is a surprise that Sophie Scholl is as watchable as it ends up.

Here's a rule of thumb: political martyrs come across as less sympathetic the more they are self-assured of the justness of their cause. Simply put, the smugness that comes along with young political martyrs barely into their 20s tends to alienate them from the viewer, as well as run counter to good storytelling. And when the Garden of Gethsemane moment comes for the young girl, we feel that far too much of the movie has set her up as a smooth operator and knowing martyr: her self-doubt and true fear ring strangely false.

What saves this movie comes from Gerald Alexander Held as the sympathetic interrogator who seems hell-bent on finding an escape clause for the girl despite having to do his duty as a political officer, as well as betray a certain lack of confidence in his cause. While Sophie Scholl is a known, unwavering moral entity, the movie rides on the shoulders of Held's Robert Mohr, and flies on the wings of Andre Hennicke's very shrill and even more smug high judge Friesler.

As a movie based on historical events and personages, Sophie Scholl: The final days seems to hold its heroine on too high a pedestal to tell a story, and even to attempt a truer story.

The clues lie in the extra features on the DVD, which contain historical interviews with the survivors of the White Rose society, and family and friends of the Scholls. I'll put it simply: there has been a fair amount of whitewashing in the telling of this story. The real Sophie Scholl was a very more humane and human character than the political martyr we are presented with; and contrary to the expectations of Sophie Scholl, the reaction in the universities to the execution of the White Rose society members was that of either apathy or approval.

It's as though these university students and their descendants have a serious case of "let's pretend most of us intellectuals and survivors of that era didn't break out the champagne or continued to be apolitical when the heroes were executed" guilt, and the very turgid political martyr of Sophie Scholl was created.

While acknowledging the problematic concept and storytelling of this movie, I would just like to say that however compromised it is, this movie still shows clearly why it is immoral and wrong for students to resort to violence and terrorism, even to protest against an unpopular and unjust war. Yes, I'm talking to you, Bill Ayers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Also, cocks.