Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Beauty in Spite of Bleakness, Speaks

“Lidice” opens with a rich, colorful shot of a meadow. A woman approaches the camera and Kneels before what we soon realize is a man, lying prone on the ground. This opening is intercut with a flashback of the same pair having an affair. Even though the only skin shown is the man’s back, it is an embarrassingly explicit scene for the viewer as voyeur. This opening is appropriate for the film as a whole, both because the film is beautifully shot despite its bleakness and it is hard to watch due to its subject matter.

The story of Lidice is one of those infamous, but lesser known atrocities of World War II. In response to an assassination of a high ranking official, Hitler ordered a town to be completely eradicated. The men (and some women) were executed, most children were gassed and the buildings razed. That story would be bleak enough for any existential European film, but this one takes it a step further by delving into the imagined lives of some of the individuals affected.

Our man from the opening, Shima, is the de facto protagonist. He “escapes” the atrocities by spending the majority of the war in prison for accidentally killing his own son. This is the message that the film tries to portray: life is tragedy. One atrocity is highlighted while thousands of smaller ones go unnoticed and unheralded.

The film is no bleaker than in the moments when it looks at the religious responses to life’s tragedies. A religious forger who is in prison with Shima reads from a Bible Shima receives from his mistress. He turns to John 3:16 to explain his worldview to his fellow prisoners. Later, when he is led away—presumably to his execution for documents he forged at the orders of the prison guards—he turns down the gift of a Bible. “I still believe in God, I obviously just don’t understand Him.” Later, when the villagers are about to be executed, they intone the Lord’s Prayer, but it does not have any visible affects.

The fact is that there are not any good answers when one looks for reasons behind the atrocities like those committed during World War II. Evil is evil and does not make sense. People are capable of more terror than most can imagine. Religion provides no help because religion is all about people attempting to improve and atone for themselves and by themselves.

God’s response is found in places like John’s Gospel. God offers hope in that He came and took the evil of the world, and the just judgment levied against it, upon Himself. Those who trust in Him live in the hope that there will be an ultimate end to evil; that God’s desires for the world will be reality. That hope is what enables us to stand in the face of life’s atrocities and still see the beauty life has to offer.

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