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Film: Sophie Scholl

osprey_archer's review of this movie (here) made me curious to see it: I was drawn by her description of Sophie (who was a real person), an idealistic university student in Nazi Germany who loves life--jazz music and jam and the feel of sunshine on her face--but who finds she can't *not* be true to conscience, even if it means dying.

Sophie and her brother Hans are members of the White Rose Society, an antiwar group. They get arrested for distributing antiwar leaflets, and much of the movie is taken up with Sophie's examination by Investigator Mohr. Sophie at first spins easy lie after lie: only her hands, clenched on her lap, betraying her extreme anxiety.



After she admits to distributing the leaflets, their conversation becomes a battle of ideas. One thing the film addresses, obliquely, is privilege and class: Sophie is the daughter of a town mayor and highly educated. Mohr comes from a more humble background. So even though he has absolute power over her, she's able to speak with the confidence that comes from being used to other people's respect. It leads to exchanges such as this:

Sophie: Without Hitler, and his party, there'd be law and order for everyone. Everyone would be safe from arbitrary acts, not only the yes-men.

Mohr: How dare you make such derogatory remarks!

Sophie: Derogatory is calling my brother and me criminals because of some leaflets! We've only tried to convince people with words.

Mohr: You and your kind shamelessly abuse your privileges. You can study in wartime thanks to our money. I was only a tailor in that damn democracy. Do you know who made me a policeman? The French! ... Without the movement, I'd still be a country policeman.

And later:

Mohr: You're much better off than people like me. You don't need to do this. How dare you raise your voice? The Führer and the German people are protecting you!

It reminded me of the sorts of criticisms that American antiwar protestors have received, and the dynamic between Sophie and Mohr reminded me of the dynamic between young radicals and their older, more conservative relatives. Mohr talks about the law; Sophie talks about conscience.

Over the course of his conversations with her, Mohr comes to admire Sophie. He's concerned about her, but fundamentally can't understand her. "You're so gifted, why don't you think and feel like us?" he asks. She confronts him with the horrors the Nazis have committed; he denies some and says others were justified. He speaks of his son, about Sophie's age, who sometimes gets "crazy ideas," but who's doing his duty on the Eastern Front. "Do you believe in the Final Victory?" Sophie asks him, and he pauses for a long moment, unable to answer. A basic tenet of Mohr's faith, and he can't assent.

Whereas, Sophie has no trouble expressing her faith. It doesn't get a lot of screen time, but what time it does get packs a wallop. And it's another thing that puts her at odds with Mohr:


Sophie: No one knows how much wisdom can come from suffering. Every life is precious.

Mohr: You have to realize that a new age has dawned. What you're saying has nothing to do with reality.

Sophie: Of course it has to do with reality. With decency, morals, and God.

At that point Mohr rises in a fury, exclaiming, "God doesn't exist!"

Their charged conversations reminded me of Twelve Angry Men, another movie that shows how very dramatic the exchange of ideas can be. They're two deeply involving, deeply sympathetic characters. Yeah, Mohr too. I think one of the things that really impressed me about the film was that it made me ache for Mohr, who doesn't want to see this young life snuffed out, who tries to prevent it--and fails.

And the whole thing is beautifully filmed too: the camera lingers on faces, on jaws clenching, gazes shifting--so much is said without words. Visually, aurally (there are tense-making drums that play in the first half of the film), thematically--it's an exceptional film.

Comments

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
duccio
Nov. 23rd, 2014 02:10 am (UTC)
I saw the previews for this a few years ago, but it maybe didn't make it to Vallejo, or I missed it in SF or Berkeley.
asakiyume
Nov. 23rd, 2014 05:22 am (UTC)
I hadn't heard of it until osprey_archer reviewed it. It's out on Netflix now, and might be available through your library.
heliopausa
Nov. 23rd, 2014 03:04 am (UTC)
It is really really good to hear about those who have courage to speak. I haven't seen the film, but I will try, if it ever comes my way. (Film-makers need to be encouraged that such films are worth making;but that's a whole other hobby-horse.)
asakiyume
Nov. 23rd, 2014 05:24 am (UTC)
This one apparently earned some acclaim when it came out--though I'd never heard of it until this year. I agree: it's good to spread word about worthwhile films.
amaebi
Nov. 23rd, 2014 03:56 am (UTC)
That sounds like a very interesting movie.
asakiyume
Nov. 23rd, 2014 05:25 am (UTC)
I think you would like it very much.
sovay
Nov. 23rd, 2014 05:43 am (UTC)
"Do you believe in the Final Victory?" Sophie asks him, and he pauses for a long moment, unable to answer. A basic tenet of Mohr's faith, and he can't assent.

Is the portrait of Mohr historically accurate, or is he a fictionalized version to allow Sophie someone to speak to? (How much is taken from transcripts?)
asakiyume
Nov. 23rd, 2014 05:46 am (UTC)
The second side of the DVD should answer questions like this--it contains discussion of sources--but I haven't watched it. It does say at the start of the film that it was based on letters, documents, and interviews with people--but that doesn't directly answer your question.
osprey_archer
Nov. 23rd, 2014 11:57 pm (UTC)
I went down a bit of a Sophie Scholl rabbit hole after I watched the film, and while I don't know if that particular quote comes from the transcripts, a lot of the movie is drawn from the interrogation transcripts. The Nazis seemed to have been stunned that these nice, clean-cut German university students had gone and done something like this, so the interrogations were fairly extensive (in length and depth; they didn't torture them or anything) because they wanted to figure out what went wrong here.
asakiyume
Nov. 24th, 2014 12:16 am (UTC)
Thanks for this--good to know.
sovay
Nov. 24th, 2014 01:19 am (UTC)
The Nazis seemed to have been stunned that these nice, clean-cut German university students had gone and done something like this, so the interrogations were fairly extensive (in length and depth; they didn't torture them or anything) because they wanted to figure out what went wrong here.

Thank you. I understand why the Nazis were confused: I still feel they really shouldn't have been.
mnfaure
Nov. 23rd, 2014 08:18 am (UTC)
I've been living in a movie-less world* for ages now, but this sounds like something worth watching.
________
* We can, obviously, go to the movies here, but it is not the most wonderful experience, the movies being WAY TOO LOUD; yep, just like someone using all-caps at you for over an hour. We all (and especially the kids) are exposed to too much noise as it is. :P
asakiyume
Nov. 23rd, 2014 12:18 pm (UTC)
This isn't currently running; it came out in I think 2005, and I got it on Netflix. Do you have a DVD player (can you get around region retrictions)? I think you'd like it.
mnfaure
Nov. 23rd, 2014 06:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I understood that it wasn't recent. I've been out of touch with movies since...oh, 2003, when we left Paris. :P

We don't have a DVD player (not even a TV) and our players on our laptops don't work. :( Need to try to get my serviced because I'd like to use it.
jordan179
Nov. 23rd, 2014 01:51 pm (UTC)
I'm pleasantly surprised that whoever wrote this realized that Naziism was a popular lower middle-class movement, as opposed to going with the more common (but ahistorical) "Nazis are Aristocrats" cliche.
asakiyume
Nov. 23rd, 2014 02:31 pm (UTC)
It's a German film, and I definitely think showing that reality was part of the director/producer/etc.'s goal.
sartorias
Nov. 23rd, 2014 03:15 pm (UTC)
I don't think this is one for me, but you describe it well. I think I prefer this glimpse through your eyes.
asakiyume
Nov. 23rd, 2014 03:33 pm (UTC)
It's possible it's not--but I will say that it's neither gory (no violence at all) nor (to borrow a term from Rachel) awesomely depressing. No scenes of people being emotionally broken down or humiliated or anything like that (well, maybe one scene near the end is a little that way, actually). There is definitely sadness, and you might want to avoid it just for the sadness, but it's a kind of beautiful and uplifting sadness rather than a hopeless miserable sadness, if you know what I mean. And there's actually flashes of humor, too. When Inspector Mohr is asking Sophie about her various friends, she keeps on saying, "Oh, that one's apolitical; oh, that one's very National Socialist," and Mohr says in exasperation, "You'd have me believe that the Reich is full of apoliticals and supporters," and she says, "That's great for you, then, isn't it."
sartorias
Nov. 23rd, 2014 03:38 pm (UTC)
Noted. I might put it on my Netflix list, and see if the mood hits me, then. Thanks!
osprey_archer
Nov. 24th, 2014 03:05 pm (UTC)
I've been meaning to comment on this entry, but I keep running up against the fact that I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT THIS MOVIE AND I WANT TO SAY IT ALLLLLLL, and that is just too much.

But yes; the movie completely revolves around Sophie's interrogation by Mohr, and it wouldn't work at all if they didn't make him feel real and human and even sometimes give him points that are, if not right exactly, then at least food for thought: Sophie's confidence does come in part from her class position, and probably that is unfair. But it doesn't make her wrong.

And I think that quote - "You're so gifted, why don't you think and feel like us?" - is very relatable (even though most viewers are probably closer to Sophie's views than Mohr's). Because it is hard to meet someone who is a clearly brilliant and excellent in every way who thinks your fundamental beliefs are wrong.

Although usually we're not in charge of figuring out whether that person should live or die... And I think it speaks well of Mohr that he doesn't jump at the chance to get rid of her, even though that would get rid of his cognitive dissonance. He's clearly sorry that someone so gifted is going to die, especially when he can't really understand her reasons why. In other circumstances - if he didn't come of age in Nazi Germany - he probably wouldn't have been a bad guy.

I remember reading reviews of Downfall after I saw it, where reviewers complained that the movie makes the Nazis too sympathetic - but all it really does is show that they were people with feelings, which, well, they were, Clearly the reviewers wanted them to remain cardboard cutouts of evil and felt uncomfortable when they didn't.
asakiyume
Nov. 24th, 2014 03:33 pm (UTC)
I feel the same way about wanting to say it all and not being able to. There were chunks I cut from this post because it was getting too disorganized and I couldn't really take the time to write it all out coherently and interestingly, and I desperately wanted to get **something** down, and I finally decided this was the part I most wanted to talk about.

Sophie's confidence does come in part from her class position, and probably that is unfair. But it doesn't make her wrong.

Absolutely. The fact that she's privileged doesn't invalidate the truth of her perceptions.

Clearly the reviewers wanted them to remain cardboard cutouts of evil and felt uncomfortable when they didn't.

And this I think is a terrible thing. So long as people think that human evil is only evil if it's cardboard-evil--as clearly defined as that--they will never be able to defuse it as it's happening.
egg_shell
Nov. 27th, 2014 07:14 pm (UTC)
We just watched it last night - after reading your recommendation. It was very good. And made me very sad.
asakiyume
Nov. 28th, 2014 03:56 am (UTC)
It's definitely *very* sad--but I thought it was sad in an uplifting way rather than in a depressing way--what do you think?
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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