The biopic Hannah Arendt is certainly a product that will cause discussion afterwards. She’s a woman ahead of her time. As a philosopher/political theorist who coined the phrase, “banality of evil,” some people may have wondered what did she mean by that? The phrase appeared when she reported about the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann for the The New Yorker. The lead-up and fallout from that article is at the center of this film.
Barbara Sukowa played the lead character with a personality that may well have been like the real Arendt, and she is richly deserving for an award for her portrayal. To see this film is like looking in a mirror, darkly, of this philosopher’s world.
Perhaps a little more could have been done to highlight her early life. In the flashbacks, the teases of who influenced her during her post-educational years suggest a lot more. Repeated viewings are required to understand this excellently layered film. The cinematic composition of this film does have to be noted. It makes uses of some interesting visual and storytelling techniques to evoke feelings of sudden separation and divorce from a Jewish community that Hannah Arendt thought she did not necessarily have to be part of.
But for viewers looking for a summary of Arendt’s life, they will have to look to written biographies to fill in the rest. This film deals with only one aspect of her career.
Some audiences may think that this movie is like a journey into the heart of darkness. But in what lies beneath this film’s story is a philosophical waxing by Arendt’s contemporaries just wanting to close off a terrible period of time when many people died. World War II took a terrible toll on humanity. In what this political theorist wrote, perhaps her own life’s legacy may never close.
Arendt tried to explain that evil cannot be truly defined. People’s actions are difficult to categorize when they are simply responding to orders like a slave obeying the wishes of what an organized community desires. She struggled with finding an explanation that would put her among the greats like Aristotle or Plato. As for whether or not she succeeded, this film may get some viewers to discover that answer on their own.
Victoria Film Festival 2013