January 24, 2009

Sophie Scholl

So we had our first Movie Night this past week at Christ the Lightgiver.

We screened the 2005 Indie film "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days", and we had a nice turn-out with tea, popcorn, chips, and cookies--and Chris Lewis even turned up with Sour Skittles. Anyway, we had gone partners with Rigel Thurston on a new projector and screen and speakers, and the set-up was looking really impressive until we popped the DVD into the computer and nothing happened. Fortunately, the room was full of tech people, so Baker Galloway and Father Deacon Basil and Winston Chapman and Rebekah Galloway (who isn't a tech person, but she was helping out anyway) went to work and rigged up some sort of arrangement which appeared to involve the store's computer and several extension cords and the Exit Sign over the door and the Christmas lights that we had left up outside. When they fired it up, there weren't any sparks, and none of the lights in the neighborhood appeared to flicker or go dim, so it all turned out well.

Unfortunately, by then, it was almost 7:45, and the movie was two hours long, so, by the time it was over, it was pretty late, and we weren't able to have our discussion. Which was a bummer until the other day when Rebekah was bugging me about getting started on this blog, and it occurred to me that we could have our discussion here at Preparing For Illumination--and this won't even require all the crawling around under the furniture that we had to go through in order to get the movie started. So, here are my observations, and I hope that all you folks who were with us on Wednesday night--or who wanted to be with us on Wednesday night--will weigh in.

I thought that one of the most effective aspects of the movie was the fact that, while the heroine's moral choices were clear, the context in which she made them was very murky. Her finance, for example, was an officer in the German Army and, apparently, a loyal Nazi--yet she clearly loved him and hoped to spend the rest of her life with him. Several of the male conspirators had also served in the armed forces--and Sophie herself had once been part of a Nazi youth organization. Our view of Nazi Germany is often pretty black and white--implying that, if we had lived back then, we would have know precisely what to do. But the fact that the heroine was very much a part of German society made her choices even more compelling.

I also thought there were profound parallels between the ways in which the Nazis went about their genocidal work and the ways in which our society deals with abortion. When Sophie talked about the fact that mentally challenged children were being killed, and when her brother, Hans, talked about the fact that he had witnessed German soldiers killing women and children, the response from the authorities was that these were just rumors and lies or that these people were better off dead. In other words, the Nazis redefined what it meant to be human, and they relied on the fact that few people had actually witnessed the atrocities they were committing. And it works that way in our culture in regards to abortion--because we do not see unborn children being killed, and because we have labeled these children as something less than human, then we can go on with our lives while millions of unborn children are put to death. Of course, viewing this movie the week before our participation in the Annual March For Life through downtown Austin, and the week when our new president has overturned the Mexico City Policy and has promised to promote abortions in other, more dramatic ways has kept all this front and center for me.

Cinematically, I loved the film's spare qualities and the use of sunlight as a powerful symbol. I thought the attempt at a happy ending--or, at least, a significant ending--was really forced, though. The film would have been much more forceful had it ended with the breath-taking execution scene.

Those are my thoughts--at least at this point. You guys let me know what you think and what we can do to make our next movie night even better (though, I'm sorry, Chris, I'm not endorsing Sour Skittles).

fr. aidan


Will Hampton said...

Sounds like a great time, minus the technical difficulties, and a thought-provoking and timely movie. Are you open to suggestions for future movies? If so, I'd like to suggest "The Island." And perhaps a kids movie event?

Joe Wright said...

I thought the movie was great. It showed how most Germans were afraid to say anything against such an oppressive regime. I think our American society at times can come dangerously closer to the mindless love for the state and it's leaders such as was the case in !930's Germany. Germany had just been saved from an awful depression and all of its problems seemed to have been magically solved by the F├╝hrer. Any dissent expressed towards Hitler was not tolerated. People who questioned the motives and methods of Hitler were silenced and "gotten rid of". When any one man is lifted up as a savior for a nation, expect the people to be intolerable. We as a nation should be careful who we put our hopes and aspirations in. As Christians we should never follow any man blindly into the void. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I take this movie as a warning for myself as a Christian to follow Christ and not a man, to love Jesus more than my country no matter the cost.

Rebekah said...

Obviously my view of how other nations deal with "dissenters" is minute and elementary. I felt the anger at Sophie's impending death creep up on me until I was completely enveloped in rage when she was actually beheaded at the end of the film. I was grateful that the director did not cut shots every few seconds, but allowed us as the viewers to linger on the faces and actions of the players. It felt more like a theatre piece than a movie which pulled me into the events of Sophie's "Final Days" much deeper.

Carol said...

What I can't get out of my mind is this -- had I lived at that time and place would I have had the courage not only to do the right thing but also the wisdom to recognize what that "right thing" was? I appreciate Fr. Aidan's comments about the "murkiness" of the moral situation. It is much easier to look backwards and judge right and wrong than distinguish it when you're in the midst of it.

A snapshot from my own life. As a young girl, I used to think I would have surely opposed slavery, had I lived during Civil War times. How could people do such an evil thing! No doubt about it - I would never have supported slavery, not me, no way.

It took a tragic event and some research to lead me to a more nuanced view of human evil (and hopefully more humility). My father's unexpected death in 1985 sparked an interest in family history and I began to research my dad's side of the family.

It turned out I had some multi-great grandparents who had distinguised themselves in the Revolutionary War. But ... they lived in South Carolina and ... they owned slaves! However, the really interesting thing was the ambivalence they had about slavery. "I abhor slavery," wrote my great X 5 grandfather. Yet his whole life and livlihood were completely immersed in the slave culture. His writings reflect a struggle, "I would be depriving my children of their inheritance..." he wrote as he contemplated the consequences of simply freeing his slaves.

Today it is easy to look back and judge, even snicker at, these comments. Yet moral choices don't always come with labels like products in a store. Of course, I would never advocate slavery or racism or Nazism -- but that's easy to say in the USA in 2009.

So, the haunting nightmare of "Sophie Scholl" for me is that I could be a part of some evil and not even know it. Bad enough are the sins I recognize and struggle with. Worse yet are wrongs I might be promoting because my moral outlook is too short-sighted.

I pray that the Most Holy Trinity will spare me from the moral crucible that Sophie faced. "Save us from the time of trial" as some translations of the Lord's Prayer read.

Anonymous said...

Crystal and I had to leave the original showing at movie night early and missed the last half of the film. This weekend we rented it and finished up.
I thought the film was extremely well made and acted -- I agree with Rebekah in regards to it functioning more like a theater piece.
I was particularly struck by interogation scenes with Inspector Mohr -- the clash between the rule of law and the place of conscience.
I also found myself angry and disgusted by the clean and cold "professionalism" with which the Nazi's carried out the punishment. In my anger I was reminded of a book I read this summer, The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal.
In his autobiographical account, the famous "Nazi hunter" recounted his visit with an SS man. He was chosen at random from the throng of concentration camp prisoners to act as a Jewish representative to hear a dying man's confession. The SS man, Karl, gave a chilling account of a particular attrocity and then asked for Mr. Wiesenthal to forgive him. Mr. Wiesenthal listens to his whole tale with a type of revolted compassion but leaves the room without a word of forgiveness or condemnation. The memory of this encounter continued to haunt Wiesenthal who continued to ask himself if he did the wrong thing by not offering forgiveness. The purpose of The Sunflower was to pose the following question to all his readers: "What would you have done?" The second half of the book is filled with symposium responses to the question from the likes of the Dali Lama, A catholic Archbishop, atheist psychologists, holocaust survivors, and one former Nazi.
I spent days writing my own response though I knew what my answer shoulde be. It was a profitable struggle with the concept of forgiveness that came back to me as I listened to the executions of Sophie, Hans, and Christopher Probst.
In the trial scene, there were several instances where the Judge was reminded that he, the rest of the Nazi's, and the German people would be judged by the world for their actions/in-actions in WWII. And while history has seemingly given its verdict, Simon Wiesenthal's question still applies to each of us. If you were face-to-face with a dying Nazi responsible for such monstrosities, what would you do if he asked you to forgive him?

- Brandon