Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (Zeitgeist Films, Unrated)

What began as a Gestapo interrogation of a resistance member turns into a personal debate between two people about morality and personal responsibility, about the laws of the land and the dictates of conscience.

 

sophie.jpgNoam Chomsky once said that the foundation of government lies in its control of public opinion. The more liberal the society, the harder the leaders must work to secure public support for their policies and programs. Repressive governments have it easier. They need only maintain an illusion of public support; the rest can be handled with the lash.

Or, in the case of Nazi-era Germany, the guillotine.

By February 1943, the Nazi’s quest for European domination was faltering. The army had suffered devastating losses at Stalingrad, and Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich seemed destined for a much shorter run than he had predicted. With a staggering number of military casualties and reports of the Nazi death camps circulating throughout the homeland, Hitler’s image as the country’s savior was crumbling. A decade earlier, in an emergency decree to “protect” German citizens from the tyranny of democracy, Hitler had stripped the Germans of their rights to free speech, free press, and freedom to assemble. It was this repressive political climate that gave birth to the White Rose.

An underground resistance group, the White Rose was a loose collection of mostly young university students who published protest leaflets in the hope of toppling Hitler and bringing the war to an end. On February 18, 1943, two of the group’s members, 21-year-old Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans, were caught distributing leaflets on the campus of their university in Munich and arrested by the Gestapo. A new movie, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, depicts the last harrowing days of Sophie’s life, from her interrogation at the hands of Herr Mohr (Gerald Alexander Held) to her trial held just six days after her arrest.

A staunch defender of Führer and Vaterland, Herr Mohr attempts, with Hitler-like bellowing and fist shaking, to wrench a confession from Sophie (Julia Jentsch); she has nearly convinced him of her innocence when he shows her a signed confession from her brother. It is at this point that the movie evolves from a taut suspense film to a truly riveting human drama. Once she confesses, Sophie—and the audience—knows that things cannot end well. By admitting her involvement in the resistance, Sophie is now free to profess her convictions loud and clear. What began as a Gestapo interrogation of a resistance member turns into a personal debate between two people about morality and personal responsibility, about the laws of the land and the dictates of conscience. In seeking to crack Sophie, Herr Mohr suffers a blow to his own worldview.

The austerity of the film serves its subject well, and Jentsch’s powerful, restrained portrayal of her character makes us feel as though we were witnessing events as they actually unfold. Near the end of the film, one of the members of the White Rose proclaims that the students’ actions have not been in vain. By sacrificing themselves for their beliefs, these remarkable people prove that even the guillotine isn’t powerful enough to quell true public opinion.

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