Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days)

In the midst of World War 2, a significant student movement arose opposing Hitler's policies and the Nazi regime.  They believed that Hitler had Germany on a suicide path and that his policies were going to drag Germany into the disdain of the rest of the world.  Of course they were right, but it's easy to see that from this end of history.

The real Sophie
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days tells the story of Sophie, her brother, and other martyrs to the cause (There's a spoiler--now you know she dies.).  Sophie and her collaborators, known as die Weiße Rose, or White Rose, mostly students at the University of Munich, are considered heroes today for their resistance to the Nazis.  Seven of them were executed, and many others severely punished.

The film shows Sophie's resolve as she and her brother distribute leaflets on campus and are arrested.  Sophie owns up to her actions and attempts to deflect blame from the other White Rose students.  The heart of the film, with its long segments of interrogation and brief "trial," show her defiant commitment to the cause of nonviolently bringing down Hitler.

Julie Jentsch was wonderfully intense as Sophie.
My favorite scene shows her passion in the interrogation room, as she criticizes the Nazi's practice of killing the mentally ill (which, in the parlance of the day, would include people with many types of intellectual and mental disabilities).  She asks Robert Mohr, her questioner, "Do you realize how shocked I was to find out that the Nazis use gas and poison to dispose of mentally ill children?"  Defending the policy, Mohr responds, "These are unworthy lives!"  He goes on to insist that Scholl, who had trained as a nurse, should recognize their unworthiness.  Scholl objects,
No one, regardless of circumstances, can pass divine judgment.  No one knows what goes on in the minds of the mentally ill.  No one knows how much wisdom can come from suffering.  Every life is precious!
Powerful words indeed from the lips of a 21-year-old college student.  (Much of the film is based on trial transcripts.  I don't know if these words actually were spoken by Scholl, but they certainly reflect her motivation in opposing the Nazis, belief in the dignity of all people and objection to Hitler's mass killings.)

I loved this movie.  Because so much of the story plays out in the interrogation room, Sophie's cell, and at the trial, it's dialogue heavy and light on action.  Although clearly committed to the historical record, the events provide plenty of drama to keep this from feeling like a dull documentary.  This is definitely one worth watching.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

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