48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2013
If you are not interested in philosophy or in grand questions such as, how can humans commit almost unimaginable acts of inhumanity? then you should not bother with this film. You very well might be, as one reviewer wrote, "bored to death." But if questions of this magnitude interest you, then there might not be another author who explores them with more intensity of focus than Hannah Arendt. This film merely skims the surface of her exceedingly complex and often misunderstood philosophical interpretation of Eichmann's crimes. The subject of this film is the social controversy surrounding her initial publications of her theory about Eichmann and the Holocaust. However, the ambition of the film must also be to bring attention to Arendt, one of the most talented philosophers of the twentieth century, and who, like most women of genius, is usually given short shrift in favor of less talented male counterparts. The acting is so perfect that I remained haunted by the characters. There are many other strengths as well: the script, beautifully folding in Arendt's relationships, including her friendship with Mary McCarthy; the sets of her apartment and classroom; the footage of Eichmann. But I think one of the final touches of insight was to have no real ending to the film thereby reminding the audience that the inquiry into the large questions tackled by Arendt will always remain open and unfinished.
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
"Hannah Arendt" (2012 release from Germany; 109 min.) is NOT a biopic of the German "political theorist" Hannah Arendt. Instead, it brings us the story surrounding Hannah Arendt (played by Barbara Sukowa) in 1961 when she is hired by the New Yorker Magazine to cover the trial in Jerusalem of ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who was famously abducted by the Israeli secret police in Buenos Aires to stand trial for his crimes/atrocities against the Jews. Arendt soon creates a controversy within her circle of friends, and later, when her articles are published, within the Jewish community at large, with her controversial, yet misunderstood, views on the trial. It was in those articles that Arendt coined the now famous term "the banality of evil".
Several comments: this is another historical drama, say along the lines of the recent "Emperor" movie. But there are differences. First, there is the amazing performance of Barbara Sukowa in the title role. She is simply outstanding. Second, this is directed by the legendary German director Margarethe von Trotta, now in her 70s if you can believe is. (Sukowa and von Trotta have teamed up before.) Third, the movie makes ample use of historical footage of the actual trial of Eichmann, and it is fascinating stuff to watch. Fourth, while there are a number of flashbacks to Arendt's earlier days as a philosophy student and her involvement with professor/philosopher Martin Heidegger (who eventually joined the Nazi party), there remain much more to be said/shown about Arendt (which of course is not the scope of this movie). Fifth, this being set in 1961, people are smoking cigarettes non-stop in virtually every scene of the movie, it is just beyond belief. Lastly, a weakness in the movie is that there is no enough real drama to be felt, even with all the controversies going on, reason that I rate this "only" 4 stars, as I still enjoyed the movie quite a bit.
I saw "Hannah Arendt" a few weekends ago at my local art-house theatre here in Cincinnati, and the matinee screening I saw this at was surprisingly well attended, tilting heavily towards seniors. Alas, the movie didn't play very long on the big screen (it's already gone). That said, if you are in the mood for a quality foreign movie, or simply interested in the historical context of this topic, I would readily recommend you seek this out, be it in the theatre or on DVD.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Making a film about a philosopher presents challenges. Philosophers and the life of reflection are internalized and often require patience and discipline to understand. Movies for a wide audience tend to depend on action. Directed by Margarethe von Trotta and starring Barbara Sukowa in the title role, "Hannah Arendt" has the famous German-Jewish émigré philosopher as its subject. If understandably slow in places, "Hannah Arendt" is worthwhile. The movie played in an independent theater in Washington, D.C. to appreciative audiences. It is valuable that it will soon available and accessible on DVD, and that the film is now available for review and discussion here on Amazon. The movie is in part in English and in part in German, with subtitles.
Hannah Arendt (1906 -- 1975) studied philosophy in Germany and wrote her dissertation (on St. Augustine) under Karl Jaspers. She became an American citizen in 1950, and taught and wrote widely. In 1961, Arendt covered the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem and wrote what became her most famous book, "Eichmann in Jerusalem" Eichmann in Jerusalem (Penguin Classics) which was and remains highly controversial. The book became known for the term "banality of evil" which Arendt seemed to use to characterize Eichmann's activities.
The movie "Hannah Arendt" focuses upon Arendt's coverage of the Eichmann trial and the controversy her book engendered. Much of the book is set in the rarefied world of the New York City intellectual as Arendt is shown with her dear friend Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer), her beloved but philandering husband Heinrich (Axel Milberg), and others. There are scenes of Arendt teaching her classes and less effective scenes of the philosopher alone with herself thinking and writing.
Then there are scenes of Eichmann and the trial using original footage. I found these scenes effective. Arendt observes and ponders, less facts than theory and motivation. She studied the trial transcript but did not observe the trial in its entirety.
The movie tries to capture something of Arendt's thoughts, at the inevitable price of over-simplification. It captures well the furor resulting from the book, with some readers thinking that Arendt trivialized Eichmann and perhaps even the Holocaust. The movie includes a ringing scene in which Arendt defends her book before a skeptical university audience.
Flashbacks show Arendt's affair as a young impressionable college student with the famous philosopher Martin Heidegger, married and many years older than Arendt. Many years after she became famous herself, Arendt got back in touch with the aged Heidegger and visited him and his wife.
Arendt's claim about the banality of evil emphasizes the ease with which people can be ensnared. Many today would argue that Arendt said something difficult and important about the "banality of evil" while she misjudged radically the character and deep personal culpability of Eichmann.
"Hanna Arendt" is thoughtful and captures its time and characters, including the chain-smoking philosopher, but it plods at times. It remains a good rare attempt to think about philosophy through film.
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2013
As a former student of Dr. Richard L. Rubenstein, whose expertise regards the Holocaust, the theological implications of the Holocaust, and decades of studying mass murder and genocide, this film was a must see for me.
Fortunately, All Saints Cinema in Tallahassee, Florida, our independent films site, showed the film last weekend and will be again this upcoming weekend (today being Wednesday, September 25th).
The film provided me with a deeper knowledge of Hannah Arendt, the trial, and the aftermath for her professional reputation. Substantial raw footage of the trial was a critical aspect of the film.
Her books include "The Origins of Totalitarianism" (1951). Revised ed.; New York: Schocken, 2004. (Includes all the prefaces and additions from the 1958, 1968, and 1972 editions.); "The Human Condition" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958); "On Revolution" (New York: Viking, 1963); "Men in Dark Times" (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968); "On Violence" Harvest Books (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1970). (Also included in Crises of the Republic.); "Life of the Mind", unfinished at her death, Ed. Mary McCarthy, 2 vols. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978). ISBN 0-15-107887-4; "Love and Saint Augustine". [her dissertation] Edited with an Interpretive Essay by Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Scott (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996/1998).
"In her reporting of the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial for "The New Yorker", which evolved into "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil" (1963), she coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe Eichmann. She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction. She was sharply critical of the way the trial was conducted in Israel. She also was critical of the way that some Jewish leaders, notably M. C. Rumkowski, acted during the Holocaust. This caused a considerable controversy and even animosity toward Arendt in the Jewish community. Her friend Gershom Scholem, a major scholar of Jewish mysticism, broke off relations with her. Arendt was criticized by many Jewish public figures, who charged her with coldness and lack of sympathy for the victims of the Shoah, also known as the Holocaust.
"Due to this lingering criticism, her book has only recently been translated into Hebrew. Arendt ended the book by writing:
'Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations -- as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world -- we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.' "
Thank you to Wikipedia. And I refer the reader to begin learning more about Hannah Arendt through Wikipedia and the rest of the Internet. As well as, of course, the film; her books and articles; and those about her.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I saw the film's U.S. debut at the Santa Barbara Film Festival last year. It's a masterpiece. Sorry to disappoint the critics, but like 90% of the audience you didn't understand it. True , Hannah in the flick - a bit sexier than in real life - I lived in the Village at the time. And Mary McCarthy - a lot less - in life, she used her astounding beauty to intimidate men. But if you want to find out what Philosophy is about - see this film. Having taught the subject for a decade and a half, that's my opinion anyway. The film also explains the concept of "the banality of evil" - on which perceived truth Ms. Arendt staked her career - as well any document short of Eichmann In Jerusalem itself.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2014
I read The Origins of Totalitarianism as an undergraduate in the early 60s. On the one hand I was blown away by the sheer brilliance of Arendt's mind; on the other I often felt a tendency to become so enamored of an idea that it blinded her to counterexamples, caveats and "yes but" nuances. Most importantly, however, she did her own thinking. She never kowtowed to conventional opinion or fellow-travelled with the majority.
A number of years after Arendt's death some small-minded dogmatist invented the concept of "political correctness", the notion that all ideas have to pass through a sieve of acceptability, defined by the prevailing ideological current of whatever in-group is in charge, before they are eligible to be debated. Arendt would have recognized the fundamental totalitarianism of this pernicious concept.
This film, as brilliant as its protagonist, deals with that period of her intellectual life in which she became a victim of PC. Her ideas were attacked not for their content but for their consequences. Her criticism of the Judenräte was interpreted as blaming the victim; pointing out Eichmann's mediocrity was seen as an excuse. Von Trotta's sympathies clearly lie with Arendt, but she lets the opponents speak. The controversy is presented in a span of minutes as well as a debate can be that lasted for years, with the emphasis on the personal price Arendt paid for her intellectual courage.
The virulence has passed, to some extent. Eichmann in Jerusalem was finally published in Israel, some forty years too late. The role of the Judenräte continues to be debated and I think it is fair to say that Arendt's treatment of a complex question lacks nuance.
Ironically, we now know that her assessment of Eichmann the man was wrong. Documents that came to light only after Arendt's death make clear that he was not the faceless bureaucrat he pretended to be while in the glass box. He did not merely follow orders, he issued them. He was not devoid of thought, rather he was a committed Nazi who after the war was active in efforts to reestablish the regime. He was as great a criminal as any of those condemned at Nuremberg.
None of this invalidates the notion of the "banality of evil", which still seems necessary to explain why thousands of Germans and other collaborators calmly carried out the orders of Eichmann and his fellow monsters. Well, no, not to explain it: it is beyond explanation. But no attempt at comprehending the incomprehensible is complete without Arendt and her fearless attempt to look evil in the eye.
Capturing that courage through the performance of Barbara Sukowa is only one of this film's virtues. It also portrays that enclave of German emigrés that made such an impact on the intellectual life of the day that it was called "The Fourth Reich"--ironically, of course, as it was composed mainly of Jews, social democrats and Communists, all of whom would have been Hitler's victims had they not fled in time. (For this reason, the film is best appreciated with the original soundtrack, a mixture of English and German as it prevailed in that circle--though Sukowa's English is less accented than Arendt's was, nor, incredibly, does she smoke as much.)
This is a film about ideas and their consequences, some of which are deeply, even tragically, personal. That's a difficult thing to pull off but Margarethe von Trotta has done it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2014
This film was excellent, but only if you are intelligent enough to appreciate history. I became very interested in viewing this film after reading Hannah's "The Origins of Totalitarianism". The main point of this film, I believe, is we always should seriously "THINK" for ourselves about the consequence of our actions and how they can drastically affect other human beings. We should never become "robots" of higher powers for personal gain.
While I am not Jewish, I definitely believe Israel should exist as a Jewish state. That the Holocost occurred horrifies me. Genocide of "ANY" kind anywhere should horrify all civilized/decent people. Any "so-called" historian who believes history does not or rarely does repeate itself is deluded or in denial. How can you possibly look back in history or study history and not see how history can and does repeat itself??? Look at what is happening in Sudan as an example.
Barbara Sukowa is brilliant in her portrayal of Hannah Arendt. She very well brought out the emotions and conflicts Hannah must have experienced. Ulrich Noethen's portrayal of Hans Jonas was excellent as well. The interaction of these two characters was something I deeply felt.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2014
This is film about the internal internal intellectual life of an extraordinary thinker and her relationships with a circle of other intellectuals including writer Mary McCarthy, Martin Heidegger, Wallace Shawn of the New Yorker, and Norman Podhoretz, during the period when she was observing Eichmann's trial in Israel and writing the review of that trial for the New Yorker, in which she first developed her idea of the "Banality of Evil." It is a great movie if ideas, intellectual conversation and controversy are your idea of riveting action. It worked for me.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2014
There will always be a problem capturing a philosopher through film. This appears to capture the person well but does not clarify the bones at the centre of her book "Eichmann in Jerusalem". Put aside the over used 'banality of evil". This does not appear to be the gist of what she was saying regarding Eichmann but more the human condition which enables many to do harm through a process of dehumanising 'the other'. The role of decent society; the acceptance of the majority of such a society to accept crimes against humanity under totalitarian rule. She notes the Eichmann trial was an opportunity lost for moral debate and the conclusion from the film, is that she blamed the victims of the Holocaust for their passivity and some Jewish leaders for their collusion with the Nazi and German operators of the machinery of mass murder. The book is different, it is more philosophy than reportage and the philosophy of morality, ethics and individual responsibility, culpability and actions. it makes for uncomfortable, but thought provoking and absorbing reading. The film does not adequately capture this and so never appears to be at grips with its subject matter-philosophy through the lens of reportage. But as a portrait of a complex woman and thinker-it works. It encouraged me to go back and read "Eichmann in Jerusalem" and see it is not as contentious as it would have appeared in the 1960s. If there is a flaw in Ms Arendt's construct it is how remorselessly degrading people to being worthless would reduce the greater majority of us to a state of helplessness. And it is not morally difficult for others to take advantage of this and build a construct that justifies them doing so. The enormity of this construct in Nazi Germany and the accompanying lack of remorse or responsibility of the majority of the generation who were part of this and the indifference of the world to pursue justice on behalf of those murdered still resonates in her book but is clinical and dispassionate. I prefer to read the personalised stories from this time as they remind me each life lost had a story, connections, a potential future which was ripped away. And there were so many who to this day have left no trace of their history. For them it is worth remembering and continuing to bear witness to the right of their existence which was torn away by the legitimised, state and society sanctioned business of murder.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2013
This is a great movie, with a very believable performance by the star. It makes clear the force of the controversy into which Arendt plunged herself, the personal price that she paid, and the historical demons that brought her to that point. Definitely five stars.