Monday, January 06, 2014

The ultimate horror

Lately I've been re-watching all my favourite holocaust films - somehow favourite feels like the wrong word; perhaps, in this case, most disturbing is better. These films tend to all blend together in my mind and it's a good time to try to sort them out as I endeavor to put together a review of essential films (of all genres) based on my own priorities and idiosyncrasies. Given my devotion to the art of storytelling and that I've watched at least two thousand movies in my days, I'll dare consider myself a bit qualified in this regard. Perhaps the April 2014 A-Z Blogging challenge will be the venue for the review. Or perhaps not until April 2015. There's a fair amount of research to do.

So I just watched Sophie's Choice which I hadn't seen in many years and I was really struck by Meryl Streep's performance. Incredible acting. Amazing, I thought.

In grade eight my best friend at the time was penning swastikas everywhere, for no particular reason as far as I was aware. I didn't know anything about the symbol. I'd certainly heard of Nazism but didn't connect it to the icon. So I drew one on my arm in pen; a goofy temp tattoo of sorts. Our teacher observed this, and addressed the class with a factual impromptu lesson on the swastika symbol and how it was a hurtful thing for some people and I immediately dispensed with my decoration. Shortly thereafter we read The Diary of Anne Frank and then devoted a long series of lessons to holocaust material. Whether this was all a response, or coincidentally the planned curriculum I don't know. I always assumed the latter.

The subject has haunted me in various forms ever since.

I have been able to wrap my head around the whole phenomena much better over the last few years but still - the sheer volume of cruelty and suffering can be - just too much to contemplate. Especially seeing images of children in concentration camps, waiting to die. It's devastating to me. Something disconnects, like an emergency shut-off switch, and I can't properly think about it.

So even though I fully understand that humans are natural born killers and it makes perfect sense to me and that the basic manifestations which made up the Jewish holocaust are still happening all over the world, though not at such an alarming concentration as far as we observe, there remains this overwhelming quality.

The DVD-extra documentary, however, offers these words from director Alan J. Pakula, and I was deeply touched by them. I was comforted in a way:

"One of the struggles of art, in dealing with the holocaust is that the reality exceeds the capacity of the imagination. Had it not really happened, no novelist, writer, thinker could have ever touched this experience without somehow exceeding any bounds of the capacity for art."

What a cruel trick; the name of this film. One will initially assume the choice is that between the two men; two lovers. But if you subscribe to the idea that there is not one holocaust story, but six million holocaust stories, then is there possibly one more horrific than this?

Pakula goes on to say: "I always believed the holocaust was an expression in the extreme of what is common to the mainstream of western society, which therefore makes it important, if not essential, for us to grapple with."

I totally get that. It's why I keep grappling.

No comments: