Friday, May 7, 2010

The Pianist

With tomorrow being VE Day, maybe you are considering a movie to remind you what this thing called World War II was all about. Maybe your kids are getting old enough to handle the serious issues that seemed to consume all of the 20th Century and are most evident in that one conflict. What do you watch? You could go with the epic and very meaningful Spielberg entries; Schindler’s List to remind us how much evil the world had to confront, or Private Ryan for the cost that that confrontation required. Most people have seen those films, however, or at least know what they are all about.

Perhaps you will consider instead watching Polanski’s “The Pianist.” It is not epic like Spielberg’s efforts. It gives us the perspective of just one man caught up in the events as they happened in Poland. One wonders if Polanski tapped into more than just the book he was adapting for the screen. Either way, you get a taste of what it might have been like for an individual Jew who was fortunate (?) enough to survive the war and avoid the concentration camps or the gas chambers.

The film’s first half shows us glimpses of the horror the Jews faced in Warsaw as the discrimination and persecution against them mounted. It is tough to watch. The second half shows us a different sort of tension, as the pianist has to hide to survive. He observes events that happen around him, but has to wait the war out so that life can go on.

For all of our apparent knowledge of World War II, we really have no ability to imagine the magnitude of evil that was done by man against man, especially if we pull our focus out beyond central Europe in the five years between 1940 and 1945. The glimpses we get of the Eastern Front in this movie do not give us a true picture of what happened when the German and Russian Armies experimented with who could take atrocity and evil to a higher level.

Think about the events of 65 years ago this week-end. Say a prayer of thanks that that war was brought to an end and similar active world-wide conflict has not occurred again. Be thankful also that evil was recognized for what it was, that it was confronted, and that the generations alive then had the courage to do what was necessary to stop it.

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