Magazine article Tikkun

Hollywood's Holocaust

Magazine article Tikkun

Hollywood's Holocaust

Article excerpt




THE READER, The Weinstein Company, 2008

DEFIANCE, Paramount Vantage, 2008

ADAM RESURRECTED, Bleiberg Entertainment, 2008

Review by David Sterritt

JUDGING FROM RECENT MOVIE listings, the world remembers the Holocaust and remains hungry for new perspectives on it. But judging from the actual movies, the verdict is different. They arrive with coy, unrevealing titles like The Reader and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Good, or more melodramatically, Defiance and Valkyrie. My unguided tour through several of them turned up one original and intelligent picture, Adam Resurrected, and three- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Reader, and Defiance- that turn historical evil into Hollywood-style entertainment. After discussing them I'll share some thoughts on the larger issues they raise.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a U.S.-British coproduction based on a children's book by Irish author John Boyne, which has racked up more than 4 million sales internationally. The film centers on a German eight-year-old named Bruno whose father is a concentration-camp commander. Unbeknownst to his parents, Bruno forms a secret friendship with a Jewish boy in the camp named Shmuel, who hangs around the back fence every day while the grownups work. The climax occurs when Bruno sneaks into the camp to help Shmuel look for his missing father, whereupon they're caught in a group being herded to a gas chamber. Both boys perish just before Bruno's horrified parents arrive to bring him home.

Where does one begin to discuss the phoniness of all this? According to Miramax Films, the picture is a "fable" meant to show "the effects of prejudice, hatred, and violence on innocent people, particularly children, in wartime." In wartimedoes this mean the Jewish genocide was simply a World War II campaign? That's what Bruno's father says when his wife speaks up against his job: he's a "soldier" and death camps are "a vital part" of the military machine.

Next let's talk about children, starting with eight-year-old Shmuel, skillfully played by a talented little boy. And let's contrast Shmuel with real Holocaust children, who- if they weren't immediately slaughtered- were starved, brutalized, violated, experimented on, and worked to death in places so horrific that you would not invite a friend to visit, as Shmuel does with Bruno in the film. Shmuel is thin and has bad teeth; real Holocaust children, in one witness's report, were "without muscles or fat," festered with "ulcerated wounds," and often "swelled to shapeless bulks which could not move" while diarrhea "dissolved their irresistant bodies until nothing remained." Nowhere in that description do I see Shmuel and his striped pajamas.

In sum, the movie is sheer counterfactual fantasy, right down to Shmuel's presence in the camp- "probably the area where fiction and truth separate the most in our film," one of the producers admits in the production notes, "because [children] were generally taken straight from the transport into the gas chambers, and Shmuel's story therefore requires a suspension of disbelief." At a time when historical memory can hardly be called robust, asking us to "suspend disbelief" in a fabrication seems like a peculiar way to honor the Holocaust, but this doesn't appear to have bothered the filmmakers. Nor did it occur to them, apparently, that the emotion-drenched finale would come across as a disgraceful exercise in misplaced sentimentality- that soliciting tears for a Nazi parent's loss is hardly the best way to end a film about Nazi genocide. The mind reels.

The Reader

THE READER IS BASED ON BERNARD Schlink's popular novel, the first German book to hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list. This movie doesn't have children, but it has something that sells tickets even better- large quantities of sex, held just shy of NC-17 by splitsecond film editing. …

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