Son of Saul
by Laszlo Nemes (2015)
hard to know what it must have felt like to be at Auschwitz. And almost
as hard to want to know enough to see this film. But we have a duty to
the past – and the future.
Nemes’ debut takes us right into the gas chambers, among the
‘pieces’, as the Nazis termed the dead bodies, and the living
prisoners forced to dispose of them. Our experience is mediated by a
single character, HungarianSaul Auslander (GezaRohrig), one of the
Sonderkommando who, for doing this work, gain an extra few months of
are up close to Saul almost the whole time, watching it all from his
perspective in a cinematic equivalent of literature’s free indirect
style. Things around him move in and out of focus and are often muffled
as he tries to shut out the horror and get on with the job. We are drawn
in and held there, a prisoner of Saul’s consciousness. This is a
remarkable achievement in itself, but it also raises important
questions, which I’ll come to later.
numbed routine changes for Saul when they find a boy still breathing
among the bodies. A doctor listens to his heart then coldly smothers him
to death before ordering an autopsy.
the boy to be his son – we never find out for sure whether this is
true – Saul is consumed by a determination to give him a Jewish burial
and he persuades a sympathetic medic to save the body for him.
bury himproperly, though, he needs a rabbi, and his search for one
drives the rest of the action.
Saul weaves through new arrivals shuffling to certain death, grabbing at
anyone who looks to have rabbinical sort of beard, in our peripheral
vision his fellow Sonderkommando are plotting a bold escape.
have managed to collect a modest arsenal for the uprising along with
photographic evidence of the atrocities to take into the outside world.
Saul is enlisted to collect some smuggled-in gunpowder from a woman
prisoner he knows but is distracted by a putative
rabbi on his way back and loses it.
accused of putting the dead before the living and risking all their
lives. “We’re already dead,” he replies.
question is can we, should we, resist Saul’s pessimistic perspective?
There is an invitation, here, to embrace death while reaching nobly for
metaphysical consolation. It doesn’t matter whether the boy really was
his son or a symbol of all our sons, nor whether a rabbi is a rabbi.
It’s the thought that counts.
it this that makes us human, as some reviewers have suggested? Or is it
the physical struggle, the revolt, of the other Sonderkommando, no
matter the odds against them, suggesting another history was possible?
May 10, 2016
May 10, 2016
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