Monday, April 11, 2011

Good

We are still trying to understand how Nazi Germany could have happened. How could an entire nation go absolutely mad? Historians continue to struggle to make sense of it—six million Jews murdered and wiped off the face of the earth. Maybe no one can explain genocide or why men do the things they do. Over the years, Hollywood has produced several movies and television miniseries that have tried to address the subject, such as the Holocaust, Schindler’s List, Conspiracy, The Hiding Place, and Hitler: The Rise of Evil.

Could there be anything new to add to the discussion? Good, a 2008 film, starring Virggo Mortensen, was released on DVD last year. I recently had an opportunity to take a look at it. This film is based on a stage-play written by C. P. Taylor. It played for a number of years on the London stage starting back in 1981. Good is about a German literature professor, John Halder (Virggo Mortensen, who in 1933 writes a novel about euthanasia.

Four years later, he is approached by The SS (The Schutzstaffel, Protection Squadron), concerning his writings. They see this as an opportunity to use Halder’s writings for propaganda. Because he is an intellectual, the SS believes Halder gives them added credibility for the cause.

Halder has never been supportive of the Nazi movement and avoided joining the Nazi Party. He was offered an honorary position in the SS, which is in direct contract to his views. Further complicating Halder’s life is his relationship to his best friend, Maurice (Jason Isaacs), who is Jewish. Halder is also concerned about keeping his job at the University. His problems go away when he accepts the position and joins the Nazi Party.

Halder’s life is anything but simple. With a sick mother, a wife who is dealing with depression, and a mistress who is urging him to embrace Nazi philosophy, Halder is walking a fine line between two worlds. Halder is what many call the “good German”. He is a liberal, mild-mannered intellectual who somehow gets mixed up in the century’s worst crime, the plan to exterminate of an entire race of people. Is Halder to blame? Or is he a victim of mere circumstances.

Perhaps, it would be comforting to believe that all Germans, as well as the Nazis themselves, were totally evil. But Good offers a slightly different view—is it possible that good men by the act of doing nothing are capable of being part of evil acts. Is Halder na├»ve or totally stupid? Does he see only what he wants to see? He is on a slippery slope. One thing leads to another. Then everything spirals out of control.

Good serves as a cautionary tale for us today. Halder only wants to get ahead and be successful. Does he realize what price he is paying? Perhaps, we can learn from this tale. We don’t necessarily set out to do bad things. But the decisions we make can put us in a position where we are morally compromised. Good is a very thought-provoking movie. Although we may never be in the same situation as Halder, we may make choices that could lead us down a destructive path.

Good is not a perfect movie. At times, it is slow, feels out of sync, and lacks pace and action. The world we see is through the eyes of Halder, and we never quite get to see the bigger picture of what is actually taking place in Germany in the 1930s. That’s because it is only a snapshot of Halder’s very personal story; therefore, it lacks a more grand scale that could have made this a better movie. There is not even a hint of German accents in this film. To make matters worse, the actors speak with eloquent King’s speech. That sort of takes away from the overall effect of the film.

With that said, Good still gets my recommendation as a film that is worth viewing because this is an important subject which offers insight into the human condition. Matters of good and evil are far more complicated than we ever can imagine, and sometimes they become blended together. Good is rated R for some language, so a word of caution. It is available on DVD but will be difficult to find.

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