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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
on October 28, 2013
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.
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.
on January 3, 2015
Quietly Low-key but interesting (but also quite disheartening) film dealing with Hannah Arendt (portrayed by Barbara Sukowa) = the renowned but also quite controversial German-Jewish philosopher-sociologist who caused an uproar during the early-1960's period when she visited Israel to write about the trial of infamous Nazi leader (death-camp planner) Adolf Eichmann (who was captured in 1960 Argentina, and put on public trial in Israel during 1961).
This particular film posits that Hannah Arendt's controversial analyses might have been misconstrued to a degree = her now well-known description of the Eichmann trial as illustrating the 'banality of Evil' perhaps being taken too literally = critics questioned whether her narrative actually downplayed the horrific crimes of Nazism by describing the perpetrators of those brutal events as being 'boring' (even mundane?)
She also appeared to criticize the Jewish leadership of Europe (of the 1930's and 1940's) for not encouraging their people to more vigorous 'resistance' (implying that many fewer would have been killed if they were not so restrained/obedient in their actions).
The stance of this film is that Arendt was not attempting to diminish the magnitude of the larger Evils committed by the Third Reich, or lessen the depravity of those societal crimes ==> this story posits that she was primarily pointing out that during the trial, it was Eichmann that presented himself as a 'non-person' just following orders with no ability to 'think' on his own = and inherently `boring' as his testimony sounded precisely like an unimaginative, robotic task-obsessed technocrat, the perfect product of the nameless/faceless/ heartless/soulless absolute-totalitarianism in which perpetrators lost any semblance of human identity, individuality, or morality (where human life itself lost all value).
Quite a depressing idea, especially since it seems to de-emphasize the concept of individual responsibility (but can absolute-totalitarianism reduce all of us to un-thinking mechanisms no longer possessing a genuine-conscience?) I think this question is debatable (and hopefully not always true), but quite disheartening nonetheless.
In any event, the film also shows that Arendt was subsequently shunned by a number of her old-friends/associates, since some were left with a distinct perception that Hannah might be diminishing the ultimate responsibility/guilt of those like Eichmann who actually meticulously planned the Holocaust (which took a great deal of 'thought' to carry-out) and also unfairly shifted a bit of blame to the overly obedient European Rabbis?
The film does present a harrowing scene near the conclusion in which Hannah Arendt defends her opinions, being grilled by college administrators (but mostly supported by her students), in which she states that she was only trying to decipher the truth about why the Nazis were able to commit such mass atrocities (only by way of first 'dehumanizing' both themselves and their victims), and also passionately states that she was in no way blaming the Jews for their calamitous fate during WWII, but still felt they should have resisted more strenuously (a moving & authentic scene).
Overall, this is a challenging film (consisting mostly of conversation & debate), but actress Barbara Sukowa (and director Margarethe von Trotta) infuse the character of Hannah Arendt with humanity, intelligence, and even humor at times.
Although some might still not entirely agree with Hannah Arendt's overly 'rationalist' view of the true nature of Evil (since the concept of absolute evil is perhaps beyond mortal human comprehension), the idea that it usually begins with 'de-humanization' (and the subsequent devaluation of life) seems like a valid one.
note: one word of warning, the dialog in this film switches from English to German (and back-again) throughout - you get used to it, but be prepared!
on December 16, 2013
German screenwriter, film professor, producer and director Margarethe Von Trotta`s thirteenth feature film which she co-wrote with American screenwriter Pamela Katz, is inspired by a biography from 1982 by American author and psychotherapist Elisabeth Young-Bruehl (1946-2011) and real events in the life of a 20th century German-Jewish political theorist. It premiered in the Special Presentations section at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, was screened in the German Cinema section at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival in 2013, was shot on location in America, Israel and Luxembourg and is a Germany-Luxembourg-France co-production which was produced by producers Johannes Rexin and Bettina Brokemper. It tells the story about a 54-year-old emigrant and thinker named Hannah Arendt who lives in an apartment in New York City, USA with her husband and professor in philosophy named Heinrich Blücher. In 1960, SS lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann who had been helped by the Roman Catholic Church to escape from Austria to Argentina is captured and kidnapped in Buenos Aires, Argentina by Mossad agents and taken to Jerusalem, Israel where he is to be convicted for crimes against humanity. In the summer of June in 1961 whilst the world is awaiting the upcoming trial which is to be broadcasted on Israeli television, Hannah is given the demanding assignment of covering the event by American journalist William Shawn at The New Yorker.
Distinctly and precisely directed by German filmmaker Margarethe Von Trotta, this finely paced and somewhat fictional, though probably as truthful as possible, tale which is narrated from multiple viewpoints though mostly from the main character`s point of view, draws a conscientious and revering portrayal of the adversity a University teacher and former Zionist is faced with after writing a ten-page essay about a war criminal called Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil" which becomes very controversial, and how her interpretation of this widely discussed historical event and its subject matters affected her friendship with a German-Jewish philosopher named Hans Jonas whom she studied with at the University of Marburg, Germany in the 1920s and a German-Jewish Zionist leader named Kurt Blumenfeld whom she worked with in Germany in the early 1930s. While notable for its distinct and atmospheric milieu depictions, reverent and distinguishable cinematography by French cinematographer and director Caroline Champetier, production design by production designer Volker Schaefer, costume design by costume designer Frauke Firl, make-up by make-up artist Astrid Weber and use of colors and light, this character-driven and dialog-driven story about the importance of independent thinking, the historical consequences of totalitarianism and the origins of evil where the narrative is driven by the protagonist`s consistent contemplation and an incisively intellectual and profoundly humane woman from Hanover, Germany is wrongfully accused of having defended one of the "many" participants of the extermination of Jews whom she regarded as a mediocre nobody and bureaucrat who was incapable of thinking due to his unconditional obedience to his leader and of blaming the Jewish people for what they were subjected to by the Nazis during the Second World War, depicts a refined and eloquent study of character and contains a timely score by composer André Mergenthaler.
This revising, informative, quietly romantic, at times humerous and ingeniously and virtuously anti-totalitarian character piece which is set in Germany, Israel and America in the 1920s, 1950s and early 1960s, which reconstructs poignant events in Hanna Arendt`s life and where a prominent author who had a romance with one of her most significant teachers in philosophy named Martin Heidegger, who after being arrested by the Gestapo in the 1930s for her Zionist activities fled from her homeland to Paris, France where she began rescuing young European Jews, who managed to escape from an internment camp in Gurs, France in the early 1940s and who had friendships with a German expatriate named Lotte Köhler and an American writer named Mary McCarthy, confronts a 55-year-old father, husband and SS-Oberststürmbannführer and writes a thesis which addressed critical questions and both challenged and changed peoples` perceptions of the Holocaust, is impelled and reinforced by its cogent narrative structure, subtle character development, rhythmic continuity, efficient use of archival footage, concentrated and commanding style of filmmaking, atmospheric flashback scenes, the masterfully understated acting performance by German actress Barbara Sukowa and the engaging acting performances by English actress Janet McTeer and German actors Axel Milberg and Ulrich Noethen. An acutely cinematographic, densely biographical and empathetic homage which gained, among other awards, the award for Best Actress Barbara Sukowa at the 34th Bavarian Film Awards in 2013.
on March 20, 2014
great period peace, about a meaningful debate I didnt know had existed, made me want to learn more
loved seeing a time when academics and were still vibrant and debate and scholarly research was still esteemed.