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)
Throughout the movie, the interior settings reveal that the movie was filmed in Germany and not in New York. Arendt's kitchen contains some vintage German-style appliances, not exclusively vintage American ones. The university lecture hall where Arendt defends herself has a German style of interior architecture, not an American one. The faculty dining hall is also designed and decorated in a German or European style, not an American one as one would have expected at an American university in 1963. See more »
The whole world is trying to prove that I'm wrong. And no one sees my real mistake. Evil cannot be both ordinary and radical. Evil is always extreme. Never radical. Good is always deep and radical.
Would you have covered the trial if you knew what was expecting you?
Yes. I would have covered it. Maybe to learn who my real friends are.
Kurt was your friend and would have remained such.
Kurt was my family.
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Hannah Arendt (2012) is a movie co-written and directed by the outstanding German director Margarethe von Trotta.
The film stars Barbara Sukowa as Arendt, who was one of he leading intellectual thinkers of the 20th Century. Arendt's history reads more like fiction than non-fiction. As discussed in the movie, she studied in Germany under the great philosopher Heidegger, was imprisoned in a Nazi internment camp in France, from which she escaped, came to the U.S., and taught at some of the finest universities in our country.
The movie concentrates on the furor that arose after Arendt wrote about the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker. (These articles were later published as a book.) Arendt brought forth her theory of the banality of evil in these articles. Her point was that an evil person like Eichmann was not a monster, but rather a person who has renounced his ability to think, and therefore has renounced his status as a human being.
Arendt believed that Jews who accepted a modicum of authority from the Germans contributed to the Holocaust, because without the Jewish leaders to maintain order, there would have been more chaos and less killing of Jews.
This latter belief made people furious, because it suggested that the Jews were partially responsible for their own fate. This is hard enough to hear now. You can imagine how it was received in 1961, less than 20 years after the Holocaust.
One weakness of the film is that the script suggests that "everyone" was talking about Arendt's writing. Then, as now, the intellectuals of the Upper West Side of Manhattan did not represent a true sample of the U.S. population. Many people were aware of the Eichmann trial, but Arendt's writings passed unnoticed by most people.
Another weakness is that characters in Arendt's life are introduced once, and then never again. If you miss the names the first time, you'll just have to live without knowing who was whom. That's not so bad, because you can accept Barbara Sukowa as Arendt. Everyone else in the film revolves around her.
If you're interested in the Holocaust and in 20th Century philosophy, the film is a must. Even if those topics aren't important to you, the movie is compelling as a study in human behavior and human interactions. We saw the film at the Rochester Jewish Community Center as part of terrific Rochester Jewish Film Festival. If it's available on DVD or at another festival, I recommend that you see it.
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