It’s not often that a movie ends with an eight-minute lecture.
Even The King’s Speech, which is about a speech – will he or won’t he get through it? – is spoken over barely a three-minute period. And it’s got the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony playing behind it to juice things up.
But in the final sections of Hannah Arendt, the titular writer and thinker has only her powerful presence and her provocative ideas going for her.
“Nobody’s ever ended a movie with an eight-minute speech,” says writer/director Margarethe von Trotta, looking elegant in a smart suit at TIFF 2012. “Who does such a thing?”
Well, von Trotta for one. She’s aways been interested in ideas and the way they shape character. In Arendt, she’s found a towering intellect who challenged the status quo by promulgating a very unpopular thesis: that Adolf Eichmann, chief implementer of the Final Solution, was a very ordinary man and that Jewish leaders may – inadvertently or not – have assisted the Nazis’ genocidal plans...That idea has been debunked again and again over the years (by Deborah Lipstadt and David Caesarini, among others). Unfortunately, the whole "banality of evil" thing has proven to be the Rasputin of ideas--creepily seductive and incredibly difficult to kill. In our time, an age where moral relativism reigns supreme in the marketplace of ideas, and when much of the intelligentsia has been seduced by Zionhass, that is especially so. Which is why it is so important to state clearly and emphatically: Arendt was wrong, and her Jewish critics--who are pilloried in the film--were right.
Update: Perhaps the most devastating critique of Arendt was penned by Richard Wolin. In his book, Heidegger's Children, he writes re the prejudices and animus that shaped Eichmann in Jerusalem:
At times, Arendt's insensitivity to the dimensions of the Jewish tragedy was striking. In a spirit of German-Jewish arrogance, she described Eichmann's Israeli prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, as "a Galician Jew[who]...speaks without periods or commas...like a diligent schoolboy who wants to show off everything he knows...ghetto mentality"--the ultimate slight from a high-born Jew. She imprudently referred to Berlin Jewish leader Leo Baeck (the head of the Reichsvereingung der deutschen Juden) as the "Jewish Fuhrer," characterized Eichmann as a "convert to Judaism," claimed that Jewish cooperation "was of course the cornerstone of everything he [Eichmann] did," and, on countless occasions, stooped to compare the nationalistic aspirations of Zionism and National Socialism--thereby suggesting a macabre equation of victims and perpetrators. Her suggestion that, in the 1930s, the Zionists and Nazis shared a common vision and worked hand in hand--at one point, she went so far as to describe the 1930s as Nazism's "pro-Zionist period"--seemed spiteful and insensitive. Finally, in a letter to [fellow intellectual Karl] Jaspers, she expressed the tasteless opinion that, "Ben Gurion kidnapped Eichmann only because the reparation payments to Israel were coming to an end and Israel wanted to put pressure on Germany for more payments."
She supplemented this lack of empathy for the victims with the contention that the man on the witness stand, Adolf Eichmann--second only to Himmler and Heydrich in responsibility for the Final Solution--was "banal." Accepting Eichmann's own calculated denials at face value, she argued that he possessed little awareness of his own culpability. She came to the conclusion that Eichmann's crimes were devoid of "intentionality." Instead, Eichmann was merely a cog in a massive bureaucratic machine in which wrongdoing had become the norm--hence his "banality."...
The most forceful accusation Arendt could mobilize against Eichmann and his fellow perpetrators was the charge of "thoughtlessness"--a characterization that seriously misapprehended the nature of Nazi ideology, its power as an all-encompassing worldview. In Arendt's view, the Nazis were less guilty of "crimes against humanity" than they were of "an inability to think"--a charge which, if taken at face value, risks equating their misdeeds with those of a dim-witted child...
Perhaps Arendt's greatest failing as an analyst of the Jewish response to Nazism was that, regarding the most tragic hour of modern Jewish history, she came off seeming hard-hearted and uncaring...
Arendt never seemed to understand what all the fuss [re Eichmann in Jerusalem] was about. She complained that "the Jewish Establishment" was orchestrating a conspiracy against her. She attributed the bad press she was receiving in Israel to the fact that the same Ashkenazi types who had manned the Jewish Councils were pulling the strings behind the scenes. Arendt viewed herself as superior to those Eastern Jewish ghetto-dwellers who in her account acquiesced in their own destruction. She identified herself with European intellectual traditions that were more refined and sublime--the tradition of Geist. She had studied--and fallen in love--with Martin Heidegger, one of its leading representatives. Could it have been those allegiances--uncanny and subterranean--that in some way led her to purvey such calumnies about the Jews in the Eichmann book?...How much do you want to bet that Margarethe von Trotta never read Heidegger's Children?
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