dachau door man's search for meaning
Book Review, Non-Fiction, Recently Posted

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl

That which does not kill me, makes me stronger – Nietzsche

 

We have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips. – Viktor Frankl

 

Man's Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl

 

‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is a book that, at first, may put off a lay buyer by the title itself. “Another self help book”! is probably the thought that would cross the mind, as it did mine. Cynicism of commercialization of the problems of modern living runs deep. Each book that purports to provide a solution to the problem in career, marriage, relationships and to the general feeling of emptiness ends up providing pop stories that makes for light entertaining reading doubling up as inspirational stories – of how other people solved their issues (or how monks sold their Ferraris!). Psychology tells us that herd mentality works for humans. If I know that some other guy cracked the secret of happiness, the brain releases enough happy hormones to make us feel that we can do the same. So the temporary happiness. And then we forget what it was all about!

And that is precisely the reason that you need to pick up this book. And you may never again may need to pick up another book to ‘help yourself’. ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ written by holocaust survivor Viktor E Frankl is a book that I can safely add to the small list of books that I can say has changed the course of my life perceptibly.

Viktor Frankl is perhaps the one of the best persons to have written a book on the topic. He was a Holocaust survivor. But that is only the part of the reason. There were thousands of survivors and not only of the Holocaust – of various Gulags and other extermination camps run by other regimes and countries. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who was in the process of developing his theory of logotherapy – study of how people find meaning in life, before he was seized by the Nazis. In the concentration camps, in a situation that was unique to modern human experience, Frankl was able to become a dispassionate observer of the people around him. And of himself. And he observed and kept developing his theory.

And he discovered some startling discoveries about human behaviour that otherwise would have been denied to him had he been just given an university environment.

And it is these discoveries and observations that he has put into this slim book. Slim yes but I don't recall the last book that I have highlighted and made notes of so much. Right from the first page, you start feeling the power of the book. Power that can only come from the words written by a man who has seen hell and has, for the benefit of those who come later, was able to record how man behaves in hell. And why some men can come out of hell unbowed while most are annihilated.

Man’s Search for Meaning is divided into two parts. In the first part Frankl takes us through his experience in the concentration camps. Through his eyes we see the world that he had to survive. He notes the behaviour of people around him – of prisoners and of guards. And he notes some things that can be observed only in extreme situations. Hope, he realized was a cause for life. And of death. Frankl narrates how he saw fellow prisoners literally turn from healthy people to being a corpse within a couple of days. Just because they lost hope and therefore the will to live.

In the second part he expands upon his theory of logotherapy. And in the process gives a primer on how to live.

 

“One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. The more one forgets himself-by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love-the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it.”

      is one of the first lines that I highlighted. Ah! good, no pop psychology, no mysticism, no universe is in you type of bullshit. And that's how ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ starts. Cutting through the bullshit. Viktor Frankl tells us the things as is. No sugar coating. An example. His wife, pregnant at the time the Nazis captured them, was kept separately in another camp. He was not to know till after the war that she was killed almost immediately after arrival at her camp. Yet he finds out one of the greatest revelations of logotherapy from this.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.

Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved

Viktor was able to pass some of his darkest moments by visualizing his wife and her smile and kept alive the love he felt for her. He drew strength from the hope that he would see her again. It is love, literally, that kept him alive

 

On finding out later that she had died, in the midst of his world crashing down a second time, Frankl did not sit down and die. For as he had learnt – even in the worst of time, life does not cease to have a meaning. As he was to tell his patients and students later on – the only thing that matters in the end is what response we choose to give.

Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

So Viktor Frankl chose to choose life and find meaning in it.

He later posed a question to his students – to guess what his, Viktor Frankl’s meaning is life is.

One student got it right. Viktor Frankl’s meaning in life was to spread the message of his book

For as he wrote,

This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."

No one except Viktor Frankl himself could do what he himself could do. Therefore he had meaning in his life.

This above statement may be the single most important lines that I have read. What different people have poured tones of ink over, Frankl sums up in a paragraph. For what can be more powerful and more empowering than the realization of our uniqueness? That no one can replace us and what we feel. That our memories and experiences are our own and own alone. No matter what the conditions.

 

And Frankl is nothing if not practical to the point of dispassionate stoicism

If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

Suffering will happen. Period. We need to know that it is as much a part of existence as happiness. What matters is our response to it

There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one's work or to enjoy one's life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life's meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering

Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it

 

 

Meaning of life is not to be found in a particular episode or in a particular form of feeling or in the way we meditate. It is to be found by living and finding meaning outside of us – in someone or some work. Fulfillment and meaning is to be found in our actions an in the way we feel for others.

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system.

This particular part above suddenly opened up a small fresh window for me as I read it. I felt the truth of the statement instinctively. I think our modern self help gurus may have got it dead wrong. Its not in ourselves that we can find meaning but in others and in our work that has some meaning to the outside world I think we were never wired to be isolated happy beings…

 

There is another beautiful thought that Frankl keeps coming back in the book. That of the fact that each moment we live is something that remains with us forever. Our past is the only tangible proof of our existence. All that we have felt, each moment that we have felt and lived and cried and laughed is something that is unique to us and is life’s greatest treasure to us

What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you. Not only our experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past; we have brought it into being. Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind.

 

 

For me, Frankl tackles beautifully one of the most difficult question that I had. And makes it look simple. I, like so many, have often wondered about the question of meaning in a general way – as if there is supposed to be a general theory of meaning. A one meaning to explain it all. Frankl gives the answer while demolishing the whole notion of a grand theory

What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: "Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?"

I am yet to see a more uplifting advice on how to live a life with meaning!

 

Viktor Frankl author Man's search for meaning In truth, Man’s Search for Meaning cannot be reviewed nor explained in detail. It has to be experienced. Reading it once is surely not enough. Its life changing enough to be read at various times in life. But reading it once is enough to change the way we think about ourselves and the way we live in the world. And I think that reading this book will be a different experience for every one. Just as we are unique individuals, just so we would take unique experiences from the book.

In sum Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Since all three are unique to everyone at all times, then it follows, I guess that we will find different meaning in different times, uniquely.

Frankl offers readers who are searching for answers to life's dilemmas a critical mandate: he does not tell people what to do, but why they must do it. This is a small but crucial difference in the way we expect self help books to help us

 

In the end, all I can say is that not reading this book would have been a great loss to me. Its quite an unique book that is probably even more relevant in our times than earlier. A couple of quotes from the book that Frankl could as well be writing about this time

People have enough to live by but nothing to live for

Our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy

Some things never change! Ah wait, I know Frank would have said to that – “Our reaction to the things can!”

 

Closing the post with a summation in Frankl’s own words. Who else to close it better?

 

Now let us turn to the question of meaning itself. To begin with, I would like to clarify that, in the first place, the logotherapist is concerned with the potential meaning inherent and dormant in all the single situations one has to face throughout his or her life. Therefore, I will not be elaborating here on the meaning of one's life as a whole, although I do not deny that such a long-range meaning does exist. To invoke an analogy, consider a movie: it consists of thousands upon thousands of individual pictures, and each of them makes sense and carries a meaning, yet the meaning of the whole film cannot be seen before its last sequence is shown. However, we cannot understand the whole film without having first understood each of its components, each of the individual pictures. Isn't it the same with life? Doesn't the final meaning of life, too, reveal itself, if at all, only at its end, on the verge of death? And doesn't this final meaning, too, depend on whether or not the potential meaning of each single situation has been actualized to the best of the respective individual's knowledge and belief?

Standard
Drama, English Movies

Silent Night directed by Rodney Gibbons

 silentnight (1) This movie, for me, is like “Dogpound shuffle”, a gem almost completely unknown generally. A movie that I saw on TV on a delightful channel called Hallmark (which stopped being aired long time back) way back in middle school and a movie that I craved seeing ever since. Internet finally came to my rescue and I was finally able to get it on my hard drive…
 
There is a certain appeal about movies that play out in a room or a house and dont use outside locales (the best case in point being “The Man from Earth”). That is because you have to rely on intelligent and taut scripting and need to have completely fleshed out characters to hold attention. You more or less rely completely on conversation to make the story.
 
Right from the first frame, you realize that this is going to be a dramatic movie. The scene of  Elisabeth Vincken (Linda Hamilton) trudging on the snowy wastes of a forest tugging along her son Fritz Vincken (the narrator), the landscape littered with wrecked tanks and dead soldiers, makes you take notice…

It is 1944 and Elisabeth Vincken is a German mother with a young son  who goes upto the family log cabin in the forest, which you realize is the theatre of the Battle of the Bulge, ostensibly to get to a safer place. But she has a deeper reason, which is revealed later…

 

 

 

 

 

The drama starts when their cabin is invaded first by three American soldiers, one of whom is seriously injured, followed soon after by three Germans. Events take such a turn (which it would be a spoiler to reveal!) that Elisabeth comes into a position where she is able to broker a temporary truce between the two parties so that they l9eave their weapons outside. It is naturally an absurd position to be in, in the middle of World War II and the soldiers are naturally incredulous at the situation but as it happens, it is something that they decide to abide by…for the moment…and they settle down to celebrate a very unusual Christmas
 
This is when the movie really comes into its own. The characters are so life-like that you begin to understand the personalities of each within a few minutes. The situations are realistic and makes the story move along at a clip. Mutual suspicion (after all you are supposed to be killing each other!!!) slowly starts turning into curiosity and later even grudging warmth.
 
The basic attraction about the movie cannot be understood unless the movie is watched since its all in the dialogues and the reactions of the different characters thrown together in this unusual situation. The Silent_pop1 atmosphere is always laden with taut tension (with the threat of things getting out of hand any time) and nervous camaraderie as everyone, over the course of the night, begins to understand a little bit of the other.
 
The whole story is about something very basic about human nature – we are as easy to be at each others throat as to be sitting around a table eating together, a paradox. And this simple fact is beautifully captured. At the end, after a dramatic ending, you wonder whether thats not the best way to defuse all wars – make them all sit around a table for dinner!! And yes, I loved the ending – completely went with what you would have expected from each of the characters.

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, if you were wondering at the outlandish situation (as i did), you would be pleasantly surprised to know that it is in fact a completely true story!!! This is one of those “happens only during wars” kind of story…and the fact that it is true makes it all the more compelling.
 
 
This is one gem of a movie that is difficult to find but it is one that is for keeps. Somehow my movie library seems complete with this…
 
Silent_pop5

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=booksandmovies045-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B000C8STSK&nou=1&ref=tf_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=booksandmovies045-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0452283671&nou=1&ref=tf_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=booksandmovies045-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B000JBXHBO&nou=1&ref=tf_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

 

Standard
Book Review, Science fiction

Fatherland written by Robert Harris

n21490 I had read Harris’ Pompeii before and had found the setting fascinating. So the first thing that drew me to Fatherland was the setting – an alternate history world where the Nazis had won the war. And pretty soon, you realize that in Xavier March, you have a hero in SS uniform who stumbles upon one of humanity’s greatest kept secret, a secret always suspected but one so horrible that its almost impossible to believe!!!
If the setting is fascinating, so is the pace of the story.

As March gets deeper and deeper into a conspiracy that is the very foundation of the Third Reich, you get a glimpse of the world that would have been if the Wehrmacht had not been stopped at the gates of Stalingrad. A world where Albert Speer got to design Germany the way he wanted to, a world where Third Reich seems all set to fulfil the prophesy of Hitler of being a “Thousand year Reich”, a world where Europe is under the rule of the swastika and the eagle, where Churchill and the queen live in exile, a world where Goering dies of natural causes and Heydrich still lives and Stalin fights an endless guerrilla war on the edges of what was once the Soviet Empire. A world where Jews have disappeared and Slavs work as maids and gardeners.

Its 1964 and its a Cold War and its between Germany and USA and the president of USA, a Kennedy is on a detente visit to the Reich. The reclusive Fuhrer’s birthday is about a week away. A body is fished out one early morning and Xavier March is called in to investigate. So starts a story that ends up much bigger that anyone could have imagined. March, a member of the SS, who is not exactly the ideal National Socialist is a man who needs an excuse to turn rebel and this is a chance he gets as the story unfolds.
map_hitlersberlin
This is a story which is in many ways similar to Orwell’s 1984, in that  the state has become like Big Brother, except the level of technological surveillance has not not quite peaked yet (and unlike the terrifying spirit breaking world of 1984, the Third Reich simply kills you). March is similar to Winston Smith, with an undercurrent of rebellion and like Smith, March is lonely and desperate to seek even a glimpse of an alternate world.
What Harris does splendidly is that he creates an alternative world that is completely believable (Germany was close to getting an atom bomb at one time and them getting it is the turning point in this history). The way Hitler’s Germany permeated social life is shown here as it was – a society where children were taught that their loyalty lay first with the state and not with their parents. Harris, Robert
And I loved the portrayal of March – like Andrei Taganov in “We the Living”, he is a tragic hero who may have once believed but slowly and irrevocably becomes disillusioned  and in case of March, actively commits subversion against the state.
And I loved the ending – thank God it did not have a clichéd Hollywood ending, would have spoilt the whole feel of the book…
This is one book that may not have the power of 1984 but its not meant to be a social commentary. This is a book that is supposed to thrill you and set you to turn your pages. This the book does fantastically. You get to love the story, you get close to March and if you have even a passing interest in history, you would love the setting. Cheering for one of the SS is not something you can do everyday!!!

var fkBanner = new Flipkart3ProductBanner();fkBanner.affid = ‘protikcheg’;fkBanner.flow = ‘horizontal’;fkBanner.logo = 3;fkBanner.count = 3;fkBanner.listType = ‘static’;fkBanner.idList = ‘9780099527893’;fkBanner.display();http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=booksandmovies045-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=0679412735

Standard
World Cinema

Fateless (Sorstalanság) directed by Lajos Koltai

Fateless_poster_405x571 A Holocaust movie based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by the Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertész, who wrote the screenplay…

Before I started this, I felt that I have had enough of Holocaust movies . For anyone who has been fed on Hollywood fare for a long time, a natural impulse is to compare any concentration camp movie to Schlinder’s List, which, as I have realized in time to be melodramatic and a one-sided portrayal (Hollywood would make us feel that only Jews died in the camps). The overdoing of the topic has unfortunately given license to Israelites to claim the mantle of victims – so that they can do to Palestinians what Hitler did to them.

But a few minutes into the movie, you realize that it is different. It has a quietness to it, almost an indifference to it, as if you are watching it from a distance. There are no gunshots, hectic action or any bravado. It populated by people who don't really know what's going to happen next, who feel that nothing terrible can really happen, believing in their own luck and following the herd – something that is all too human and completely real. The father is called for labour camp and is given a farewell dinner. No one can really fathom where he is going, beyond a vague notion of dread.

This is a movie that is almost a quiet reflection of how people behavefateless during times of unimaginable horror – survival by any means for those who are caught in hell and denial by those on the outside.

For me, the most beautiful part of the movie is the last quarter, when our protagonist comes back to his homeland, a home that has changed and not only due to the bombed out buildings. The movie before this is about how different people try to survive – some by ruthlessly practical, some by having a dream (like walking on the streets he has left behind), some by turning to religion and some by compromising. Morality and ethics, construct of a peaceful society ceases to exist in the face of extermination at any moment. In the midst, flashes of humanity sometimes sparks, if only for a few moments…

fateless-6 The last part brings to mind the last part of “All quiet on the western front”. A person who has suffered something that is beyond understanding, realizes that outsiders can be curious, be in denial or be sympathetic, all without ever understanding. The outsider expects explanations in normal day-to-day terms, which the insider is incapable and ultimately unwilling to provide.

György realizes that he has to come to terms with it himself and has to try to find a ‘future’, as he is advised by all those who keep saying that its ‘all over now’. Everyone wants him (and by reflection themselves) to forget what has happened and look ahead. The fate of the victims and survivors…

What you take away from this movie is the feeling that there is no point in pointing fingers at those who ran the camps. We are betrayed as much by our own people (the camp overseers, the policemen whofateless2 rounded up the Jews were all compatriots) as much by the invader. The greatest criminal is the art of forgetting that is perfected once the crisis is over.

The film is shot in beautiful chrome and has some stunning camera-work. There are not as much words spoken as emotions generated by the lights and shadows. You realize that sometimes words are truly insufficient to make the  mind grasp – we are left with only visuals that can penetrate.

A narrative that is a commentary on how we grapple with something we don't understand and which we are then unwilling to remember, unless we mythologize and glorify.

The drowned and the saved sometimes share similar fates…

 

Standard
THE GREAT RAID
Action, English Movies

The Great Raid directed by John Dahl

great_raid If all you like is great action visuals, watch only the last 45 minutes of this movie or go watch Saving Private Ryan. If you like a complete movie which concentrates on historical accuracy and goes caringly into depth of an issue that is viewed differently by different affected parties; If you don’t mind sub-plots that gives a holistic understanding of the situation and if you like to understand the build-up to a mission, you will enjoy this movie immensely…

Other than the fact that movie is well-balanced and does not hurry you to the final firefight, what I liked best about the movie was the accuracy and the highlighting of the contribution made by an often overlooked part of the war – local resistance. The war would not have been won if not for the local intelligence provided by the resistance militia. With the overt focus of Hollywood on D-day landing (it provides for great visuals), most people would think that wars are won by heavily loadedphoto_06_hires landing parties (US would have been winning in Iraq that way isn’t it?). Of course, this movie is all true and painstaking detailing has been done to replicate this, right down to the last bit of strategy.

Also, this is a theatre of war (The Pacific) that has received little attention from movie makers over the years. Only recently has the Soviet theatre started to receive attention (possibly because they had done the western theatre to death and needed newer visuals). The Philippines, Indonesia etc are places where the fiercest battles were fought, yet few directors have ventured there…

photo_10_hires This is about the ‘Raid at Cabanatuan’, a mission to save POWs captured by the Japanese. As the war was drawing to close, the Japanese gave a directive to kill the POWs. After this practise became known, this mission was conceived. The Americans were helped in planning and execution of the mission by the Filipino guerrillas.

The film rotates between the Americans, the POWs, Margaret Utinsky (a nurse who helped the resistance), the urban resistance and the guerrillas. Care is taken to ensure that that each side’s viewpoint, motivation and courage is shown. This part is what I respect immensely about the movie. No one side completely dominated the movie. More emphasis was not laid on the Americans. Everyone was taken on as an equal partner, something that an overwhelming majority of movies of this genre tend to do. Sure, this makes this a little longer than usual but who said that good things always had to come in small packages…

The final mission is executed with great care and this makes for one ofphoto_09_hires the best action sequences in a long time. You understand the strategy completely and you are a part of the nerve-wracking moments when the knife-edge strategy is on the point of collapse. Its a great visual treat to watch how the coordinated action on three fronts led to one of the biggest POW rescues in history…The final actual footage is a nice add-on.

Overall, a movie that gives you complete satisfaction – on the characterization front, on the action front, on the story and accuracy part.

Great watch!!!

 

Standard
1967_Dirty_Dozen
Action, Classics, English Movies

The Dirty Dozen directed by Robert Aldrich

dirty-dozen-titles1 Now, this is a movie that is usually first heard of before being seen, such is the iconic fame of this movie…

I approached this movie with some trepidation since with such famous movies, the expectations built up can spoil the experience of enjoying the small things in the story. Another problem with the classics is that many of the assumptions of the era (racial, ethnic etc) can be galling to the modern viewer.

My fears were unfounded however. Other than the fact that the Germans were cardboard in characterization (a common flaw in movies that is being corrected only now), the movie had the feel of a good action thriller with a quirky humour of its own. And it nothing galling about it, thankfully.

The story of  group of criminals given a chance of freedom in return for a mission has been repeated in its various avatars over the years. But the premise still retains its charm. A dozen of hard, gruff men (including an impossibly young Donald Sutherland) forced to get together by a maverick army captain; bonding together to form a band of brothers going out on a mission that was considered suicidal – this is a story that retains its freshness and excitement no matter how manyDirtyDozen2 times you portray it.

The story progresses quickly – right from the offer made to the condemned men, the training, the baptism by fire and the final mission. The bonding that happens between the wildly different men is shown naturally without any artificial constructs. The mission itself was pretty thrilling even though you argue on some of the obvious flaws in the assumptions in the execution of the final plan.

Another good thing about the movie was that there was no holier than thou attitude that western movies tended to take of the World War with respect to Germans. The movie never went preachy. Instead, it was obvious that for the condemned men, it was the US army that was the enemy. The Germans were remote and just a mission. This is refreshing especially from a movie from that era. There is a tacit understanding that every army is pretty much the same. It just depends which side you happen to be born in.

the_dirty_dozen However, for all that its worth, there is a problem with the depth of characterization. Many of the characters seemed only slightly better than two-dimensional with the result that you fail to connect with them properly. You don’t get to know them well enough to become a complete part of the proceedings. And this surely had nothing to do with the era. I got the feeling that more effort was made to manage the huge cast and to develop the storyline and the action than to develop the characters. The result is that movie is intensely enjoyable in most part but you just get the feeling that you got cheated on the emotional front. You just could not feel enough for the characters. Maybe that is a bit too much to ask for. But then for movies this famous, you do want it all, don’t you?!

 

Standard
BLACK_BOOK
World Cinema

Black Book/ Zwartboek directed by Paul Verhoeven

1774342580 The movie works great because it is densely populated by people whose characters are never in black and white, always in grey. This is something that makes the movie and the characters so believable. Because you understand that in an extraordinary situation such as war all that matters is survival. Its just your luck how you end up – least of all whether you end up on the winning side or the losing side.

Its a world war II movie and its about many things. It’s about atrocities, love, betrayals, partisans and a whodunit. And yes, its about survival, by any means necessary. What is refreshing about the movie is that it paints both sides with the same brush. Sometimes you forget that the allies have been ingrained in our psyches as the ‘good guys’ and the Germans as the incorrigible ‘baddies’. You find the same characteristics on both sides and as one of the end scenes showed (in a particularly disgusting and for the same reason intensely powerful scene), the sadism generally attributed to Nazis flows equally well in the veins of the historical victors.

The story revolves around Rachel Stein, a Jew in hiding in Netherlands, who witnesses the betrayal and killing of her parents and brother during an escape attempt. She then joins a resistance group and is given the task of infiltrating the SD (Sicherheitsdienst – a part of the SS) by seducing the SD commander Ludwig Müntze. But things soon go awry, from a tactical point of view as well as from an emotional point of view. It is here that the movie is masterful. The shift in perception is subtle but visible. The grey shade of the character in everyone becomes evident – for better or for worse. The script never lets you perform easy categorization. And this becomes stronger and stronger as we near the end.

The best part of the movie, according to me, is the very end scene. AsBlack Book 3 the camera pans out to the sky, you see men, this time, Israeli colonists taking aim behind barricades to confront what we can assume are displaced Palestinians. It’s a delicious irony shown brilliantly – how easily the oppressed become oppressors. As Rachel says as she breaks down near the end of the movie – “Will it never stop, then!”, the movie subtly lets you know how it never stops.

A richly complex movie that says a lot of things that may not be apparent by a casual view. Its emotionally complex plot is a welcome one – a sign that we re successfully moving away from the “Rambo” image of World War II

 

Standard