Saturday, September 21, 2013

Movie: Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt:  there are reasons to see films beyond their entertainment value.  This movie about author and philosopher Hannah Arendt is one of those films.  The movie’s focus is on the controversy that arose from her commentary on Adolph Eichmann and his trial.  While there are historical biographical scenes of her pre-WW II life as a student in Germany, the flashbacks, with one exception, are really a distraction.  The movie assumes the viewer has knowledge as to who is Hannah Arendt.  The opening is a slow go.  The dialogue shifts back and forth between German (subtitled) and English.  The director, Margarethe von Trotta, presumably intended the use of both languages to add realism as well as to illustrate the Arendt’s complexity.  Arendt’s reputation stemmed from the publication of “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, which I read as a college student.  The movie does not give us a start date but most of the film takes place in 1961 when Arendt contacted The New Yorker to write about the Eichmann trial.  One of the few light moments in the film are the scenes with William Shawn (Nicholas Wodeson), the legendary New Yorker editor.  The controversy, which arose after five segments ran in The New Yorker,  involves 10 pages in a 300+ page essay published as a book entitled “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”.  In these 10 pages, Arendt notes that in an attempt to survive, various local Jewish community leaders in Eastern Europe cooperated with the Germans.  Her comments were interpreted by some as blaming Jews for their own massacre.  The movie portrays Arendt as becoming fixated on this issue after hearing testimony about this factual reality.  The movie also notes that the underlying point of Arendt’s essays was that you can never cooperate with evil regardless of what the short term gains (food, for example) appear to be.  Arendt speculated that although millions would still have died, the total number may have been smaller if there had been no cooperation.  Her speculation is impossible to prove or disprove.  But many survivors were still alive in 1961, and reading that they may have assisted in the killing of family and friends brought wrath upon Arendt; her reputation still suffers.  Arendt died in 1975 but the ending of the movie appears to occur in the Fall of 1962.  Barbara Sukowa plays Arendt as a serious woman in a loving relationship with her husband, Heinrich Blucher (Axel Milberg).  Her biography of having escaped to America from a French detention camp is noted but the only pre-1960 events shown are scenes with her professor mentor/lover  Martin Heidegger (Klaus Pohl), another controversial figure.  Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and never publicly repented although he survived the war.  In other words, there is a minefield of fascinating storytelling that could have occurred but was not present.  However, in the 113 minutes, the viewer is given serious, thought provoking material.  This is a film to watch at home.  The film’s Honolulu showing was limited to the Doris Duke Theatre and it is unlikely to have a general run, therefore, an at-home viewing is probably the only way you will be able to see it.  But make the time and then be prepared for some serious thinking.  For those of you who have seen the film or have read about Heidegger, the pun is intended