Sophie Scholl–The Final Days

Sophie Scholl--The Final Days

Sophie Scholl was a college student in Munich during World War II who was part of a group of students caught and executed by the Nazis for agitating against the war and against the regime.

I watched two Sophie Scholl movies a week or two apart. One (this one) is a conventional movie, and the other is a documentary. So I’ll be able to compare these two different approaches to the same story.

It’s interesting watching this version first, because it enables me to speculate how close they chose to stick to the facts and to what extent they fudged in order to make it more entertaining or to make certain political or ideological points and such. (I also have purposely not read anything about her or about the student opposition to the Nazis.)

This movie starts out decent, as it shows the students plotting to do things like distribute anti-Nazi leaflets. But it gets a lot more interesting when they are caught (though only Sophie Scholl is mentioned in the title, it is almost as much about her brother, and to a lesser extent about other students affiliated with them), as there are then a series of extended interrogation scenes. It borders on the spellbinding watching her spin a series of lies to evade responsibility, as the intensely watchful interrogator probes for any hint of a misstep.

Scholl is maybe a little too perfect, a little too calm and collected as she dances around the interrogator’s best efforts, but it struck me as at least reasonably realistic. And it’s powerful because you’re not only seeing the back and forth between these two characters, but you’re thinking about all that lies behind it. Even though for a time it looks like she might fool them and get out of there, emotionally it doesn’t feel that way at all. There’s more of a hopelessness to it as you realize that almost certainly they’re going to put her through physical torture if this interrogation doesn’t result in her saying what they want to hear. And there’s a paranoia to it too, as you suspect anyone and everyone. (For instance, why does her fellow prisoner immediately befriend her, ask her a lot of questions, and offer to help her in destroying any incriminating evidence she might have? Well, the Nazis are in total control of the institution, so it’s hard not to think that’s all a set-up.)

A Gandhian would say she shouldn’t be playing the game in the first place, lying and trying to keep her story straight and all that. For even though the form of resistance the students chose—leaflets and propaganda and such—is “nonviolent” by most definitions of the term, Gandhi insisted untruth is every bit as violent as physically striking someone. So this whole cat and mouse game would never get off the ground with a Gandhian.

After those initial interrogations, the movie loses steam for me. I remained interested, but instead of building, it falls off from that peak.

It just doesn’t feel as real to me after that. In a sense it’s almost like the Nazis become pussycats (well, leaving aside the whole killing her and all that).

The torture doesn’t come. The interrogations continue as a battle of wills, except that now Scholl easily wins that battle. Once there’s no point in her denying what she’s done, they instead engage in a debate about the merits of Nazism, with Scholl presenting the case against, which reduces her opponent to blustering ineffectiveness. This is followed by a courtroom scene where the Nazis again can manage only fury and frustration, countered by calm, principled declarations of conscience by the prisoners in the dock.

Maybe it all happened exactly like that, but it sure has the feel of a “history is written by the winners” thing to me.

There’s even some pandering to religious folks, as Scholl attributes her motivation in opposing the Nazis and the Holocaust in part to her faith in God, and the Nazi interrogator explicitly declares himself (and by extension the regime) to be atheist.

I’m sure it’ll come as a surprise to historians (as well as to a couple thousand years worth of perpetrators and victims of Christian mass murder of Jews) to learn that the Nazis were atheists and their bravest opponents were religious believers.

Another thing that occurred to me watching it is how easy it is for people to cheer on an internal opponent of the Nazis when very, very few of them would do the same when it’s their own country. Some of the arguments thrown at Scholl and her cohorts are eerily similar to what American super patriots said to Vietnam protesters (and opponents of wars since then)—e.g., that regardless of whether you personally agree with a war on its merits you never stab your own soldiers in the back by opposing it when they’re out there risking their lives to keep you free, that it’s hypocritical to oppose a regime that has enabled you to be in college in the first place, and so on.

Anyway, I liked Sophie Scholl—The Final Days. Certainly the first half more so. But even though parts of it after that get a little too simplistic and Hollywood in making the Nazis into Colonel Klink-style supporting players in the canonization of the title character, I’d say it’s still clearly a worthwhile film.

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