Friday, Sept. 17, 2010

Good and Evil

By David Luhrssen
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In Good, Viggo Mortensen stars as Halder, a man who gradually—by steps—loses his moral bearings in Nazi Germany. A literature professor, Halder mumbles objections when a bonfire of books erupts outside his classroom window but falls silent for fear of losing his job. After all, he is an intellectual who harbors doubts about intellectualism: perhaps a fresh start for the mind and the nation, without those musty books, is just the tonic? Likewise when a beautiful but ethically uncertain student throws herself at him, his will to resist crumbles—despite his wife and their children. Maybe he felt the need for a new start in life?

Hitler remained a joke to him for a long time, an odd digression that soon will pass. And then he is called to the Reichs Chancellery and informed by an official that the Fuhrer is a fan of the novel he had written a few years earlier. “It raises controversial theories on the right to life,” the bureaucrat says, admiringly. Of course, life is not a universal right to the Nazis, who are about to launch a campaign of “merciful euthanasia,” killing “incurably handicapped” people of all sorts. Flattered by the attention, Halder agrees to promote the euthanasia program, which leads to an honorary commission in the SS, which leads to an active if shaky hand in the Holocaust.

Directed by Vicente Amorim from the play by C.P. Taylor, Good (out Sept. 28 on DVD and Blu-ray) retains many scenes that leap straight from the stage. Although it falls short, like most films, in visualizing the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, it presents a picture of a man who never set out to do evil but almost entirely fails to do good.

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