Blindness and Doublespeak

It's likely that the Nazi genocide of European Jews (along with Gypsies, homosexuals, and others considered ethnically or socially deficient) is the most well-documented and thoroughly interpreted subject in the last 50 years of filmmaking. Amen, Constantin Costa-Gavras's latest movie, is one more in the mix, but its subject—the tortured principles of a Nazi Secret Service officer and his attempts to stop the death camp machine—is a unique, powerful angle to the horror.

Greek-born director Costa-Gavras is known for his politically charged films, including 1969's Z, the story of the Greek military junta, and 1982's Missing, perhaps his best-known film in the United States. Missing told the true story of Charles Horman, who was "disappeared" in 1973 during General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile.

In Amen, Costa-Gavras, who co-wrote the script with Jean-Claude Grumberg, tries to show the immense consequences of passivity and the overwhelming responsibility borne by those who are driven by their sense of justice and righteousness. The film is adapted from the German play The Representative (also translated as The Deputy), written by Rolf Hochhuth.

Amen is based on the true story of Kurt Gerstein, a devout Protestant Christian and chemist who joins the SS out of what seems to be patriotic duty. He believes his task is to create a method to purify water and prevent disease among soldiers. There are some who question his participation in the elite guard of Hitler's party—the SS was roundly despised by everyone, including other Nazis—but he is confident that he's untouched by its dark side: "I do nothing," he states, "that is in conflict with my conscience or my faith."

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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