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Has the mass murder of Europe’s Jews eclipsed the other significant horrors of Hitler’s Germany? Does it matter? And is it possible to address this without being accused by the thought police of belittling the Holocaust? Let me try.
These questions are raised in the greatest film released in the past year, Never Look Away. Made by the aristocrat Florian von Donnersmarck, the director who created the masterpiece The Lives of Others, it has yet to attract the cult following rightly achieved by his first major work. I think it ought to. It is beautiful, immensely powerful, and packed with thoughts about goodness, the temptations of power and evil, and the nature of art. The film’s depictions of the morally complicated yet triumphant birth of a baby amid misery and ruin, and of the cynical use of abortion in a father’s evil attempt to end his daughter’s love affair, are firmly on the side of humanity, and should be treasured in their own right.
Heart - Story - Mystery - Guilt - Story
At the heart of the story is a Dickensian mystery of unrevealed guilt, quite unbelievable but based upon a true story. The original evil act destroys a beautiful young woman, suffering from some unknown mental illness, who is caught by Hitler’s eugenics program. Even if you think you know about this sordid corner of National Socialism, which begins with steely pseudo-rationalism and ends in rank murder, the relatively gentle portrayal of this crime and the others happening alongside it will greatly shock and distress you. But it, and other elements of this film, ought also to waken the consciences of many on the self-described progressive left.
For these progressives, the Nazi era has been both a sort of moral scripture and a source of certainties. With increasing force since the 1970s, the left has managed to associate the Hitler...
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