Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer
What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer
Does God feel our pain? Answer
Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer
Starring: Robin Williams, Hannah Taylor-Gordon, Éva Igó, István Bálint, Justus von Dohnany, Kathleen Gáti | Directed by Peter Kassovitz | Written by Jurek Becker (novel), Peter Kassovitz
I haven’t had much time since seeing this film to decide what I think of its approach. Some reviewers are saying that it trivializes the subject of the Jewish ghettos and the Death Camps by focusing on everyday ghetto life rather than on the killings, and by often taking an almost comedic tone (sort of like Hawkeye Pierce’s attitude on the “MASH” TV series, which was his way of coping with what he saw every day). Maybe the reviewers' criticism is correct, or maybe the film is an honest attempt to show that life does go on and that no matter how bad things get, no one can stay focused on the bad constantly.
Jakob (Robin Williams), a resident of a fictional ghetto somewhere in Poland, accidentally hears some favorable war news on the Gestapo Commander’s radio while being interrogated. When he shares this news with other ghetto residents in order to give them hope, they assume that he owns a hidden radio. Playing along, he begins to make up stories of other Allied victories. People’s spirits are lifted and the suicide rate goes way down, but there’s a risk that the Nazis will storm the ghetto and start executing people until someone turns over a radio which actually doesn’t exist. Of course, it’s wartime so there’s a special set of rules governing killing, lying and even suicide. The most important consideration to Jakob is which course of action is best for his people, and that’s not easy for him to determine.
Warning: There are several scenes of killing, some torture, plus the knowledge of where the trains are going. Scattered profanity. Remarks by some Jews that God doesn’t hear them or that if they’re the chosen people, they wish He’d chosen someone else. An unmarried couple is shown sleeping together (not explicit). And there’s the moral dilemma of what Jakob should do once he’s trapped in his lies. For all of this, plus the question of whether approaching this subject with a relatively light tone is even valid, I recommend it for adults only. I believe parents should preview it, decide for themselves whether it’s a fresh outlook or just exploitation, then guide their teens accordingly.
For those who’d like to know the details of ghetto life that no film can convey, I recommend reading the following accounts of the Warsaw ghetto: Mila 18 by Leon Uris (fictionalized) or The Bravest Battle by Dan Kurzman (nonfiction).