Quick Review: 4.75 stars True visual storytelling, maybe the best I’ve ever seen. Note: This one is LONG. And there are ways it could have been tightened, but it is worth the watch. It is not a happy movie. It is deep and poignant. Overtly Christian while shining a light on the hypocrisy of the Catholic church during the war. And visually stunning, just beautiful. This one is not for kids, and unless you are acquainted with a deeply thoughtful younger person, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for younger teens either. It will test your attention span, but it is worth it.
Longer review: As you may imagine I can’t really summarize a three hour piece that is visually focused. So I won’t try. Rather I will tell you, find a theater and SEE THIS FILM.
Occasionally we are called upon to witness: acts of courage, acts of cruelty, moments of significance. The personal, spiritual, and historical all coalesce around this story of one man and his family doing what his conscience dictates in the face of the Nazi regime. I usually go on about acting and direction, but I think there is too much going on here to do any of that justice. Rather than attempt, and fail, to capture the whole of this experience, I will distill it down to three things I walked away pondering.
1. We show what our integrity is worth by what we risk for it.
2. Our lives are made up of our little daily doings, not our big decisions.
3. “If we have free will then we are responsible for what we do or what we fail to do.”
One: I have never been called on by circumstance to risk my life for the sake of what I believe. I hope I never live in such a time where the government can put me to death for refusing to support one group or condemn another. I know there are places the globe over where the government is too weak to protect its citizens from similar threats from terrorist and paramilitary groups or even just their neighbors. When it comes to integrity I have always kept it by, when I get my head around it in the moment, asking myself is my sense of what is right worth this much? A forgotten grocery item that didn’t get scanned, an inaccurate statement made about a person or situation, a vote on an issue are some of the things I find myself using my little metric to do the right thing. But when doing the right thing means sure death it is easier, I think, to excuse those that shrink from such a course.
If you can walk away from this movie without any shame about the little things you have not stood up for, been honest about, or walked away from rather than putting your image, your security, or your convenience at risk, I question your humanity. I walked away asking myself how much is my sense of right and wrong worth to me. How much is it worth to you? What would I give my life for? What would you?
Two: In a cell, alone, starving, tortured and tormented the things that kept Franz, the main character, going were his memories of his home and family and his devotion to God. Our lives are more than the sum of the things we do, but they are composed of all the little things we spend our time on. In the darkness that came from setting himself in opposition to a war machine he could not conquer on his own Franz has his life before to buy him. The touch of his wife’s hand, the sound of his daughter’s laughter as they played games of blind man’s bluff, the jangling of the cow’s bell, the sound of the wind, the taste of bread loaves fresh from the oven at the miller’s added up to a supply of joy and goodness and worthy pursuits worth standing up for.
To become part of Hitler’s army was not merely to support his crimes and participate in them, but to affirm a way of life that said the natural world (as distinct from industry and efficiency), the simple joys of a small life, and compassion were the hallmarks of a weak society.
In our dark night of the soul, however it comes, and I promise you it does come for everyone one way or another, what daily parts of your life will fill you from within, from the place no one can touch? Will there be books tucked away in your head, poems you can recall? Will there be scents that take to remembered gatherings and human connections? Will there be moments of peace and calm brought through prayer and meditation? Will there be remembered vistas from mountains or colors of a sunset that you drank in for no other reason than they were brilliant and you were there to see them?
Or will you look within and find only the vague recollections (and all the research shows they are vague at best) of texts and tweets and reddit threads? Will your hours have been the sum of your scrolling?
To be resilient we must be built of greater scaffolding than the modern world offers. How did the greatest generation who hid Jews, defied a tyrant, and saved a continent do it? By being built of the daily love they showed their families, the skills they worked to perfect, and a conscience so in tune with the divine that even when their spiritual leaders were too afraid to stand they were compelled to do what they knew to be right.
Three: I am a firm believer that every choice matters. They might be as simple as what we have for breakfast or whether or not we workout or what job to take or what to listen to as we commute, but they add up. And each one is an expression of what we want for our lives. We can make restitution for wrong choices made that hurt ourselves or others, but we can never unmake that choice.
If you believe that this one mortal life is the sum of your consciousness, then how much more important is it to make sure the imprint you leave is positive. If you believe, as I do, that you were you before becoming corporeal and will be you in a life hereafter, then each choice made here will resonate into the eternities. If I fail to protect those I could, if I don’t speak up when someone is being hurt or wrongfully persecuted, or if I let negative emotions lead me to hurt others I am responsible for that choice. If I vote for someone I do not believe will be an ethical leader I am responsible for that decision. No matter the pressure from within or without, no matter the system in place or the people in power, no matter how others treat me, and NO MATTER WHAT THE CONSEQUENCES ARE I am always responsible for the choices I make.
Repeatedly, our protagonist is asked if he has the right to throw his life away on something as pointless as defying Nazi Germany. In a beautiful type of Christ he answers most of his interrogators with silence, but in the end he rejoins with, “Do I have the right not to?”
We always have the ability to choose to avoid pain, to go along with the crowd, to express support for what we don’t really believe in for the sake of some other goal; but we never have the right to do wrong if we wish to be people of integrity. Not every sacrifice can be avoided, sometimes the bad guys claim victories in the form of humiliation, loss, and even death. But those sacrifices stand as a testament to the wrong that was done and the courage of those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
This movie needs as many eyes on it as can be had and it deserves every award that can be laid at its feet. Get a group of thoughtful, interesting people together and clear out an afternoon and an evening. Go see an early showing and you will have hours worth of dinner conversation, a trove of rich visuals to see you though the gloomy winter, and things to ponder.
Until next time, enjoy the show.