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January 23, 2009

’Defiance’: Life is beautiful

Defiance I was out of town last weekend, so I wasn't able to see Defiance, which opened on Friday, until this week. The film is based on the lives of the Bielski brothers, who not only led a cadre of resistance fighters, but who eventually came to shelter more than 1200 Jews in the forests of Belarus during World War II. 

Before I headed to the theater, I checked out this review. Though the reviewer is rather neutral on the film's value, the comments were more illuminating. One clueless fellow said, "Enough Already.  Who are these films supposed to appeal to anymore?"

Thankfully, other responses showed more wisdom: "These films, and the novels, essays, poems, and books of nonfiction on the era are all 'supposed to appeal' to thinking humans who continue to ponder the nature of humankind, what we owe one another, and how we might prevent this happening again." Another commentator simply observed, "We will have 'enough' Holocaust films after six million stories are told." I'm hoping that the wiser voices about the value of seeing Defiance will prevail.

It's not an easy film to watch, and well deserves its R-rating for violence and language. Yet, it's the very grittiness of the film that makes it so valuable. The film doesn't gloss over those moments when the Jewish survivors choose revenge over compassion, but it also shows the danger of doing so as they risk becoming as cruel as their collaborating neighbors and the Germans. The film forces viewers to repeatedly ask, "What would I have done if I had been in their shoes?" It makes us pit our ideals (often formed in peace, security and comfort) against the reality of unwanted moral choices foisted upon us by war. As Sam Thielman says over at World, "The ethical complexities of the movie make it worth chewing over." 

But Defiance does more than that. Some of the best scenes in the film are those that show these desperate, isolated survivors forming a new community: They share food, they build shelters, they nurse the sick, they protect the unborn, they fall in love and marry, and they worship together. The film most strongly reaffirms the responsibility of the strong to protect the weak, but it also reminds us that there's more to life than mere survival. 

In a simple scene near the end of the film, as the Jews flee deeper into the woods, Daniel Craig's character (Tuvia) stops for an instant to soak in the beauty of the forest.  It's a telling moment that reminds Tuvia, and us, that life -- even at its most difficult and dangerous -- is indeed beautiful.

(Image © Paramount Vantage)

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Jason Taylor

Is it really a typical "Holocaust Film" as such? After all any WWII film can be a Holocaust Film if you streatch the point. It sounds more like an epic that uses the Holocaust to drive the plot then a typical Holocaust film. It sounds more like it is more about fighting then suffering then about simply enduring. About doing things rather then having things happen to one.
It does sound like one that might be worth seeing.

Jason Taylor

What I think would be cool is a film about the Polish Boy and Girl Scouts. They did such things as hold covert hikes and camps(being Polish was actually outlawed by the occupiers so just maintaining culture was a part of the resistance)as well as more active roles. Most famously delivering messages during the Warsaw Revolt.

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