Thursday, October 4

Considering "Sophie Scholl: Die Letzten Tage"

To keep in mind before anything further is written, my viewing of Sophie Scholl: Die Letzten Tage was not the most typical. As one might infer from the title, this is a German movie. My German, though improving dramatically since arriving in Munich, is not the strongest, especially in the oral. Thankfully, the movie was shown with German subtitles. Unfortunately, trying to keep with them turned most of my attention away from the action, and my understanding was not always top flight, though an earlier discussion of what to expect did help immensely. Like I wrote earlier, just keep this all in mind as I may not be the most trustworthy reviewer because of that.

Suffice to say, this movie is one of brave resistance, particularly that of Sophie Scholl, in the face of tyranny and evil unto death. Sophie, the titular character and her brother, Hans, along with other student friends and a professor published and anonymously distributed the White Rose, a series of fliers advocating resistance to the Nazi government. Upon distributing the final flier in their university, the Scholls were seen and arrested. They and their friend Christoph Probst underwent three days of interrogation before being found guilty of high treason and were executed by beheading. The film has a high claim to factual integrity as so many records in the form of the group's writings and documents concerning the interrogation and sham trial are available, though is does make clear in the beginning that creative license was taken.

Really, this movie did nothing to excite me. There is nothing to specifically criticize about the film. It is competently put together, but no special effort to make it stand out seemed to be taken. It appears as though the director was content to rely on conventions, a final meeting with the parents that cements our assurance that what Sophie has done is right and the possibility that her determination made a concrete difference in the beliefs of her interrogator, without reaching for greatness. University students were put to death simply for the things they wrote. Not only that but their executions were hastened. Typically, the condemned had 99 days. The Scholls and Probst were killed the day of their judgment. These are powerful things, and instead of drawing on them, the director has Sophie, the lone voice of reason and lover of freedom, calmly face her interrogator and, later, the judge, both tools of the system and prone to outbreaks of shouting. Except for the language and German courtroom style, this does nothing to distinguish itself from any number of hack courtroom dramas or dystopian science fiction.

But is it true? Is this really how it all came down? If that is the case, then my previously stated concerns are inconsequential and my response to the movie can then be marked up to an inadequate director, actors, etc. or my own coldness to others' emotions. But the film did come out and say that it took liberties. A consideration of the relationship between historical truth and entertainment seems like an appropriate topic for a future post because I bloody well do not intend on overwhelming a purported review with that.

Nothing illustrates my lack of excitement in the film itself more than what interested me the most in the film: the fact that I had been in entrance hall to Ludwig-Maximilian-Universit├Ąt earlier that day, the site of Hans and Sophie Scholl's capture following their most daring release of White Rose fliers. Yes, it is utterly provincial of me to get some thrill for having a minor relationship to a movie, but it is there. And I thought that the possibility of a little filming for a little romantic comedy with Snoop Dogg and Joe Pantolian (not together, as I understand it) in the house I lived in this past summer was exciting.

The thing that sticks in my throat the most about Die Letzten Tage and possibly the historical event itself, is the treatment of the Holocaust, and this is undoubtedly related to my American perspective. Excepting a brief moment when Sophie and her interrogator consider the rightness of the Nazi government, no mention is made of the forced migration of Jews into concentration camps or their mass execution. Taking my understanding from the movie, the impetus for the White Rose was the time Hans spent on the Eastern Front as a doctor and his realization that Germany could not win the war. For the majority of Americans, the Eastern Front is a non-issue with respect to World War II, certainly nothing compared to the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, D-Day or the dropping of the atomic bombs. Sympathizing for the White Rose is more difficult when its resistance seems founded on the more pragmatic belief that Hitler was a moron for waging war on two fronts than for hating the Holocaust, the far greater tragedy. Is it reasonable to assume that the members of the White Rose might have known what was happening? I do not know. I realize that there is some debate as to just how aware the German populace was of what was happening to the Jews and am not sure on the timing of the founding of extermination camps, but this is a question better answered by a World War II scholar. The answer does nothing to tarnish their courage, but it certainly does affect our perceptions of them.

I had never heard of the siblings or their resistance before, so I have no idea just how big of heroes they are for Germany as a whole. LMU's celebration of them though certainly cannot be denied . The two fountains directly in front of the main building were renamed in both their and Probst's honor and reproductions of the White Rose are permanently embedded in the stone work around them. There is even a permanent exhibit just past the main entrance, and a projector constantly displays quotes and passages by the members of White Rose above it.

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