Sophie Scholl -The Final Days
In February 1943, as
In Sophie Scholl: The Final Days we meet Sophie just before she and Hans undertake a particularly dangerous mission. Because they ran out of envelopes to mail the leaflets to random addresses, they took thousands of them to the university to leave for people to pick up. At the last minute, Sophie pushes a stack of them off the balcony. Unfortunately they were seen and arrested. The film follows Sophie through her interrogation and punishment.
The film is based on records of the interrogation that have been shut away for many years, just coming back to light after the reunification of Germany. Much of the film is really a two character play with Sophie going head-to-head with Gestapo officer Robert Mohr. At first, Sophie has an answer to all his questions; he's suspicious, but nearly ready to release her. But her brother confesses and then she, too, confesses. She and Mohr spend the next few days in debate over Nazism and freedom. She is bright and articulate -- and courageous.
The ordeal goes on in a show trial along side her brother and another member of The White Rose, Christopher Probst. The trial is not about evidence, but rather allows the presiding judge to viciously reprimand each defendant in turn for their actions and the harm it does to the nation. The defense lawyers have nothing to say to help their clients (indeed, the defense lawyers are part of the Nazi court apparatus.) The sentence has been determined. The trial is only to warn others of what awaits them if they oppose Hitler and the Riech.
Throughout her ordeal, Sophie is sustained by her faith. We often see her looking out the window to the sky. At times we hear her prayers for God to be with her. The film also portrays her as something of a shadow of Christ. When Mohr finishes his final interrogation, he goes over to a sink and washes his hands in imitation of Pilate at Jesus' trial. A cigarette shared with her brother and Probst serves as a tableau of the Last Supper.
Sophie is indeed a valiant hero. In a time when many in
I've had a terrible time writing this review. Sophie's story is an inspiration that is well worth seeing. It's nomination for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language is ample evidence of its quality. It is spiritually uplifting and intellectually challenging. That's the easy part of the review. The hard part is liking a film so much, but having it fall a bit short of what it could have been. Since the Winter Olympics just finished, I'll put it this way. It was a definite silver medalist. A silver medal is wonderful; it is something to be proud of, but just a bit more could have gotten the gold.
I think part of the problem is that American audiences don't already know about The White Rose and Sophie Scholl. Since it's a German film, the primary audience is those for whom the story of The White Rose has grown to almost mythic significance. Even though I read up on the movement and read the leaflets before I went, that heroic myth that the Germans would probably be able to easily tie into just doesn't translate in the subtitles.
For a German audience the film doesn't have to tell any of the background that is missing in the story. We pick up the story only at the point of the distribution of leaflets at the university and the arrest. We have no real idea of what led Hans and Sophie into this movement. Certainly it was easy (and safer) in Hitler's
All of this is to say that Sophie's character just wasn't filled in as well as it could have been to make the movie even better (at least for non-German audiences.) Even a few glimpses into her life before all this could have added a great deal to an already very good film. It would have been especially helpful to understand a bit more of the way that her faith molded her, not just as she faced persecution, but as she saw the work she was doing with The White Rose as calling to a higher law.
This is a story well worth telling, and worth telling well. It is told well, but just a bit more could have made it a true classic.