This was one of the saddest films I have seen. You could see it through many different lenses dependent upon your belief structure but for me it was about seeing how destructive it can be when there is an insistence on ‘either black or white!’ with no room for grey – grey which, as well as being a mixture of both colours, can be created from a mixture of all colours…you are judged as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, worthy or not worthy, dependant upon whether or not your beliefs match those of the judge.
At the beginning we have two elderly gentlemen, Niklas and Horst, who have kept a tender friendship going despite differences in views for many many decades, genuinely referring to each other as ‘my dear friend’. The fathers of these friends were accessories to the most ghastly atrocities. Niklas, received no love from his father and had none for him. The other, Horst, loved his father and felt that his father had tried to do some good, putting his father’s connection with the horrors out of his mind. So…. despite their differences and Horst’s ‘denial’ they enjoyed and appreciated each others existence.
Then, so very late in their lives, a human rights lawyer who has lost all of his family apart from one in these same atrocities, is introduced to Horst, by his good friend Niklas, who believed that he would enjoy the meeting. This is not so, in fact he finds Horst’s denial so appalling that he is determined to bring realisation of the full horror of what the ‘beloved father’ had done home to the son. To what end though ?…To me the interventions in the film lacked any heart, any softness or tenderness, quite the contrary. The result would seem to be an increase rather than decrease in suffering for all those concerned and we are left with the taste of ashes in our mouths.
The friendship comes to provide a vehicle to explore and expose both the extent of the atrocities and the existence of denial, and finally it itself is deemed intolerable. Yet Horst committed no atrocity… he did not cripple his life by taking the weight of his father’s actions upon himself but then he was not responsible for them, and he seemed to be wordlessly but deeply moved by Phillipe’s grief in the filming which took place at the site of the massacre.
Hearing the question ‘what would this man have to do for him no longer to be your friend?’ felt completely tragic. The hardening around beliefs, the certainty of judgment, of reification and totalisation of a human being was infinitely sad. To me it is unsurprising that in the face of being cornered, and considering the force behind ‘helping’ him see differently, Horst visibly shrinks and then warms to those who regard his father warmly. Without the making of this film would he have had any direct contact with these people?
In the interviews it would seem that Horst was traumatised by his loss of security aged six as allied bombs were dropped in the adjacent lake; that Niklas suffered deeply from a lack of love as a child, and the suffering motivating the lawyer Phillipe’s actions is obvious. All of this is so deeply sad.
Suffering upon suffering!
Most of us would say ‘i would never do what those nazi officials did’…but that is just what we would like to think, a thought which feels right to our egoic editor! When our lives and those of whom we love would be lost, our homes, friends and assets stripped away, would we then be so sure of the right course of action? Might we not think ‘well better to keep my head and see what can be salvaged….maybe do some good ‘undercover’?’….or, having been depressed and hopeless, maybe swept along with the tide of optimism and blind faith in a strong leader?
I really don’t think we can know outside of the exact situation what we would do….but dharma practise points in the direction of clarity, of compassion, arising from wisdom. People are as they are due to multiple and variable factors, how best to be with them?…if any activity has the widest perspective for the welfare of all concerned then that will be a gift for the world arising from the heart.
The words ‘the quality of mercy is not strained’ kept popping into my head in the weeks before seeing this film….and then the question ‘strained by what?’. Eventually the answer arose…anything.
If you are thinking ‘what right does she have to speak? Is she a nazi sympathiser? Not at all; my father was in the S.A.S. during the war and the consequences of the extreme stress he endured at a young age played out in his parenting…with negative consequences, as it has done for so many millions of others involved in conflicts across the world, with a hardening and the manifestation of repressed fear, despair and anger. So when I see people treating each other with tenderness, i find that beautiful…if they can do that despite their hurts, their fears, and their differences – very beautiful indeed….
My view of course depends upon my experience and practice and differs in tone from that of the critic in the Guardian so i think i should also include that here.
This film so moved me that i did a bit of research which i have attached should you be interested. If you’ve only got a second maybe take a look at Portias words below and the meaning of Shalom at the end.
Mercy (Middle English, from Anglo-French merci, from Medieval Latin merced-, merces, from Latin, “price paid, wages”, from merc-, merxi “merchandise”) is a broad term that refers to benevolence, forgiveness and kindness in a variety of ethical, religious, social and legal contexts
A famous literary example that alludes to the impact of the ethical components of mercy on the legal aspects is from The Merchant of Venice when Portia asks Shylock to show mercy. He asks, “On what compulsion, must I?” She responds:
The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Here’s an interesting bit of trivia, by the way, since Portia is invoking God in this speech. The word “mercy” has 276 occurrences in the King James Bible, according to concordances; the word “justice” occurs 28 times. Ironically, the two have only one line in common: Psalm 89, verse 14 (“Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face”)
Righteousness (also called rectitude) is a theological concept in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It is an attribute that implies that a person’s actions are justified, and can have the connotation that the person has been “judged” or “reckoned” as leading a life that is pleasing to God.
From the Jewish virtual library:
RIGHTEOUSNESS, the fulfillment of all legal and moral obligations. Righteousness is not an abstract notion but rather consists in doing what is just and right in all relationships; “…keep justice and do righteousness at all times” (Ps. 106:3; cf. Isa. 64:4; Jer. 22:3; Ezek. 18:19–27; Ps. 15:2). Righteous action results in social stability and ultimately in peace: And the work of righteousness shall be peace (Isa. 32:17; cf. Hos. 10:12; Avot 2:7).
Against the juridical background of righteousness, the paradox of divine justice comes into prominence. A doctrine of exactly balanced rewards and punishments contradicts the reality in which the just man suffers in consequence of his very righteousness (Eccles. 7:15; cf. Gen. 18:23; Jer. 12:1; Hab. 1:13; Mal. 3:15; Ps. 32:10; Job, passim; Wisd. 2–3; Lev. R. 27; Ber. 7a; Shab. 55b; Hor. 10b). This individual problem takes on a national character in Jewish history, throughout which an innocent nation is constantly being persecuted (Wisd. 10:15; IV Ezra 10:22). The paradox becomes even more striking in view of the legal character of the covenant between God and His people: “And I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness and in justice” (Hos. 2:21).
Attempts to come to grips with this paradox account for the notion that the righteous man suffers for and with his generation, and that his death expiates for their sins (MK 28a; Ex. R. 43:1; cf. Gen R. 34:2; Sanh. 108a). Often, however, man’s anger and righteous indignation in the face of overwhelming injustice causes him to invoke that absolute righteousness which rests only with God: “for Thou art righteous” (Neh. 9:8; cf. II Chron. 12:6; lsa. 5:16; 45:22–25; Ps. 89: 16; II Macc. 12:6; Ḥag. 12b).
In Talmudic Literature
In rabbinic theology, God’s right hand represents the Attribute of Mercy, his left hand, the Attribute of Judgment (MRY, p. 134). Similarly the question of the Midrash on the verse I Kings 22:19, “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the Host of Heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left,” namely, “Is there then a left on high? Is it not all right there?… (Song. R. to 1:9, no. 1) indicates that in the upper realm there is only mercy, and no judgment.
One of the clearest and most holistic words for justice is the Hebrew shalom, which means both “justice” and “peace.” Shalom includes “wholeness,” or everything that makes for people’s well being, security, and, in particular, the restoration of relationships that have been broken. Justice, therefore, is about repairing broken relationships both with other people and to structures — of courts and punishments, money and economics, land and resources, and kings and rulers.