In 1961, the noted German-American philosopher, Hannah Arendt, gets to report on the trial of the notorious Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann. While observing the legal proceedings, the Holocaust survivor concludes that Eichmann was not a simple monster, but an ordinary man who had thoughtlessly buried his conscience through his obedience to the Nazi regime and its ideology. Arendt's expansion of this idea, presented in the articles for "New Yorker", would create the concept of "the banality of evil" that she thought even sucked in some Jewish leaders of the era into unwittingly participating in the Holocaust. The result is a bitter public controversy in which Arendt is accused of blaming the Holocaust's victims. Now that strong willed intellectual is forced to defend her daringly innovative ideas about moral complexity in a struggle that will exact a heavy personal cost. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
I didn't know an awful lot about philosopher Hannah Arendt before I saw
this movie. Now I know a lot more about her, and about the way she
thinks. After seeing the film, I have even read some articles about her
If that's what director Margarethe von Trotta had in mind when making
this film, she succeeded. Her film documents an important chapter in
the story of Arendt's life: her articles about the Eichmann trial in
Jerusalem, and the ensuing tsunami of negative reactions. The reason
for those negative reactions was the way Arendt regarded Eichmann: not
as a monster, but as a man 'incapable of thinking', a dimwit who just
followed orders. This fitted her theory of 'the banality of evil': the
worst kinds of evil are often the result of not thinking for oneself.
Veteran actress Barbara Sukowa portrays Arendt as a difficult and
complex woman, who is a brilliant philosopher but also stubborn,
arrogant and single-minded. In one scene, we see her lying on a couch,
when the phone rings. On the other end of the line is her editor, who
faces a deadline and asks if she is making progress with the articles.
'Of course I'm working hard, and it would be nice if I could continue
working instead of chatting on the phone', she answers. After that, she
returns to the couch, lies down and continues smoking her cigarette.
Sometimes it seems that Arendt is incapable of feeling, just as
Eichmann is incapable of thinking. Even when her best friends turn away
from her, she continues insulting them by telling them 'she doesn't
love the Jewish people'. She means it in a philosophical way - you
can't love a people the way you love individuals. But nevertheless, it
comes across as cold-hearted and insensitive.
Arendt is clearly an interesting person. But that doesn't make 'Hannah
Arendt' an interesting film. From a cinematographic point of view, the
movie doesn't have much to offer. It's a rather straightforward account
of this episode in Arendt's life. The only thing that adds a little
depth to the film are the flashbacks of the romantic affair she had
with her teacher, the famous philosopher Martin Heidegger, who
sympathized with the Nazis. The film suggests that this affair
influenced the way she regarded Nazis such as Eichmann, but doesn't
make this explicit. In my view, the film is interesting as a history
lesson about this remarkable woman, but not as a great cinematographic
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