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4.0 out of 5 stars A Movie about Hannah Arendt, August 31, 2013
This review is from: Hannah Arendt (DVD)
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.

Robin Friedman
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 31, 2013 11:01:02 PM PDT
H. Schneider says:
Haven't seen it yet, but will look for it.
One comment on your opening: Trotta doesn't make movies for wide audiences... She is always a nerd for nerds. Not from Hollywood!

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 1, 2013 4:50:18 AM PDT
Good point!

Posted on Sep 1, 2013 5:46:05 PM PDT
Interesting character analysis and review. I believe I would enjoy the Eichmann trial, as well. Bad man, and banal, for sure.
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Robin Friedman
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Location: Washington, D.C. United States

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