Message of Hope Amid Aryan Evil
In most wars the eventual victims are the noncombatants. World War II started differently. In the European Theater, with only the British Islands and a double crossed Soviet Union (the Soviet Union had signed a non aggression pact with Germany: then the Germans attacked a non aggressive Poland and the Communists attacked a non aggressive Finland), remained to hold off the onslaught of the Hun. With no formidable defense adversarial to the advancing Third Reich; the Waffen SS and the Wehrmacht rolled through Belorussia in the Summer of 1941 on their way to the sieges of: Leningrad (formerly St. Petersburg before the USSR, and St. Petersburg, once again, after the fall of the USSR) and Stalingrad (formerly Tsaritsyn before the USSR, and Volgograd after the fall of the USSR).
Belorussia is located to the east of Poland and the west of Russia, with a significant Jewish population before World War II. Adolf Hitler's final solution had already commenced, with the Waffen SS, at the tip of the spear, to subjugate, and, or eradicate all Jewish men, women and children in Belorussia. The film "Defiance," is based on the novel "Defiance: the Bielski Partisans" by Nechama Tec, is the true story of the Jews that escaped from the Nazi horrors to the Naliboki forest to organize under the command of Tuvia Bielski, and the leadership of his brothers: Zus, Asael. Tuvia, portrayed by Daniel Craig, was a Jew, who had just lost his family in the initial genocide perpetrated by the Waffen SS in Belorussia. As he, and his three brothers (the fourth brother's name was Aaron) struggled to survive in the forest, they encountered other Jews, dispossessed of their homes and their families, and in dire need of aid.
Tuvia, as the oldest brother and Zus, the next oldest, played by Liev Schreiber, discover that, after being thrust into leadership roles, they have major differences to the direction that leadership should take. Tuvia believes that by the taking in more Jews: mostly women, children and the elderly, they will force a moral victory by collectively surviving. Zus is more inclined toward violence and revenge against those that slaughtered his family, and his people. While they are both right in their impassioned directives, it is Tuvia that possesses the higher purpose, and in their struggle to determine who should lead, Tuvia gains the edge, at which point, Zus leaves to fight, with great distinction, with the partisan resistance commanded by Soviet officers.
While Zus learned to fight, and fight with the ferocity of a strong Jewish warrior, Tuvia learned to lead. Their approaches to making a difference for their community were dissimilar in context, but equally effective in practice. Watching these Jewish refugees: living in the woods after a life in their organized communities, learning to govern and be governed, learning how to fight to survive after centuries of placation was like watching a nation being born - like Israel. At one point when Tuvia, the more pacifist of the two brothers, shoots and kills a young boisterous fighter for openly usurping his authority in the camp, one might consider Tuvia a hypocrite after his previous pronouncements of a community predicated upon the principal of saving the Jews, rather than seeking and killing the marauding Waffen SS. I consider, however, that Tuvia was a good leader by doing what was necessary to maintain order in a military camp, and make no mistake, it was a military camp.
And that is artful beauty of this film. It allows those of us who understand the horrors of an unjust society juxtaposed against the complexities of the necessity of an armed defiance and an armed resistance against all that would destroy a people. Some may consider that when Tuvia allows the Jewish women to beat a Waffen SS scout, out of vengeance, to his death was a horrendous act, I advocate there is no moral equivalency to the fact that an estimated 800,000 Belorussian Jews were murdered in the final solution, with the Waffen SS as Hitler's enabling force. In that perspective, the life of one Waffen SS scout is of little consequence. Director Edward Zwick lays out a tight story of the horrific reality of the Eastern Front, with the lives of over a million Jews in the balance, and we, the audience through his film, can equivaocate the details of morality. How convenient for those of us to discuss and judge, from the safety of our freedom, the failings of Tuvia Bielski in the ghastly epoch when others lived, and sadly, mostly died.
This is the chemistry of a very good film - it makes you consider other realities. "Defiance gets the history right, it is well acted (especially the aforementioned Daniel Craig, Live Schreiber and the Jamie Bell as Asael), it is beautifully shot, and James Newton Howard's soundtrack was one of the best in 2008, and far superior to those nominated for the Oscar. Director Zwick kept the film tight at 137 minutes of runtime, and for those of us that can consider the world as it was, the film did not disappoint. Seeing the Jews fight back against the Aryan (Hitler considered the Germans to be of Aryan descent - they actually are not) tyranny of Adolf Hitler's evil Third Reich was a manifestation of hope for those of us that understand and see all that is the world - then and now.
For those of you that do not deem that our world's history is the story of humanity's soul, and what historical context one can stomach must be spoon fed in small doses, with copious action and adventure to keep you awake, do not rent this film. You will not be entertained. If it is entertainment that you seek, rent Transporter 3, or that last Mummy film, and just stay in the dark on these matters of the reality of true injustice.
Rated R. Released on DVD June 2, 2009.
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.