August 14, 2010
Defiance (2008) -Review by Isaac
“We may be hunted like animals, but we must not become animals. We cannot afford revenge, our revenge is to live.”
Based on historical events, Defiance is many things: It’s the story of three rough-edged, ordinary men who take responsibility for more than a thousand lives. It’s a tale of bravery, dogged perseverance and an unwavering desire to save others that parallels the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Finally, it’s a Holocaust story that was virtually unknown until Tuvia Bielski revealed its details shortly before his death in 1973.
Holy-Situational-Ethics, Batman! – This story is incredible. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell all give terrific performances as the Bielski’s, three Jewish brothers who escape into the wilderness and build a sanctuary for Jewish refugees. Daniel Craig portrays the burden of ‘tough-decision-maker’ in Tuvia Bielski, and the audience genuinely sees and feels the story through his eyes. But the plot isn’t limited to Tuvia (Craig) as all three brothers face their share of moral conundrums. A society of Jews escaping Nazi extermination by hiding in the forest raises more than a few ethical questions. The Jew’s situation here is almost post-apocalyptic in nature, as they struggle to survive and develop community despite being outcast and treated as animals.
The more familiar you are with the Nazi’s antisemitism, the more you will appreciate the themes presented in Defiance. The dialog is salted with lines like “We will not live like animals,” “to live is our act of defiance,” “if we die, we will die like human beings.”
I consider Defiance an excellent film because of the story it has to tell. This isn’t the emotionally haunting Schindler’s List, nor is it a war epic like Saving Private Ryan. In terms of pacing, gravity, and directorial vision, Defiance isn’t playing in the same league. But to compare Defiance to these WWII film giants is, in my opinion, doing Defiance a great disservice. This tale of the Bielski brothers is a unique story, a true story, and one well worth engaging in.
As an American, its easy to hold WWII and the Holocaust at a distance. American’s think of WWII as that time when evil emperor Adolph Hitler made Europe look like a bunch of pansies and the USA had to go in to kick some Nazi butt. (remember the trailer for Inglourious Basterds?) My point is, Americans get to feel like the heroes without identifying with, or even understanding the suffering most of Europe had to endure. Can you imagine Pearl Harbor on a nationwide scale? – I can’t. I have no mental wheels for processing WWII, let alone the Holocaust. It is completely foreign to me.
And that is why Defiance is important. Because the level of depravity carried out by Nazi Germany and the Holocaust should seem foreign to us. Normal people don’t round up their neighbors and send them to gas chambers. This is a bizarre, terrible, and unfathomable chunk of history. But these things really happened. The Nazi’s are more than just the go-to historical Super-villains for Indiana Jones and Hellboy, they are a historical reality. WWII revealed the utter depravity of man, and this is a lesson we desperately need to be reminded of.
Historical tales like the Bielski partisans open our eyes to something beyond our Band of Brothers perspective. My wife kept remarking: “they’re just people! Why do you have to kill them?” – which is, a good question. Despite their raids and occasional sabotage missions, the Bielski partisans were mostly families who were simply trying to survive. Tuvia Bielski never turned anyone away. At its peak, the Bielski camp had 1,236 people, and 70% of its membership consisted of women, children, and the elderly. This is a heroic story worth passing on.