7 October 2015 | blanche-2
Evil has an ordinary face
This is a fascinating look at Hanna Arendt, a German-American philosopher who in 1961 reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann for the New Yorker. A huge controversy erupted.
Arendt left Germany in 1933 for France, but when Germany invaded France, she found herself in a detention camp. When the film begins, she is a happily married woman with friends such as the writer Mary McCarthy, and she is a professor at, among other places, the New School in New York City.
Hanna is very excited about covering the trial, but her husband, Heinrich, is afraid it will take her back to those dark days.
While observing Eichmann, Arendt is struck by the fact that he was an ordinary man with nothing special about him. This causes her to think about the nature of evil itself. She decides that he's not a monster but a person who suppressed his conscience in order to be obedient to the Nazis. She thus created the concept of the "banality of evil."
She believed also that some Jewish leaders at the time had fallen into this trap and unwittingly participated in the Holocaust. Her critics failed to understand her meaning.
In some camps, her New Yorker articles were not well received, as she was seen as a heartless turncoat who blamed the victims. Hanna has to defend her ideas, and the price she pays for them is high.
Barbara Sukowa does a magnificent job as Arendt, showing the woman's brilliance, courage, affection for friends and family, and hurt when some people she loved turned against her.
It's surprising that she was met with as much disdain as she was -- but Arendt did not believe in blind adoration of any group. She took people on an individual basis.
As far as the banality of evil, evil has always had the ordinary face of people sitting back and doing what they're told. Or, as Martin Luther King said, doing nothing. I'm sure many of us have experienced this in the workplace -- I know I did. It's then that you realize the true nature of most people. Everyone can say they have ethics - but do they have ethnics when they stand to lose something?
Beautifully directed by Margarethe von Trotta, who also co-wrote the screenplay. A difficult subject made clear, a complicated woman understandable -- no small feat. A thought-provoking film.