This weekend’s recommended movie, Son of Saul, isn’t an easy one to watch; however, considering what is going on around the world – and specifically in the United States – I think it’s a timely recommendation that will definitely make you think deeply about where you stand on a variety of thorny social issues.
This Hungarian movie, which won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, follows Saul, a Jewish man who is a member of the Sonderkommando in 1944. In real life, this group of prisoners was tasked with some of the most gruesome jobs at Auschwitz, including disposing of the bodies of gas chamber victims during the Holocaust.
In this film, Saul is present when a young boy barely survives the gas chamber. However, the child is soon asphyxiated by a Nazi guard. Saul becomes obsessed with finding a Jewish rabbi to oversee a proper burial for the young boy. Most scenes in this 107-minute film keep Saul’s head and shoulders in frame, subtly hinting at the atrocities he must witness.
So why should you spend the mental and emotional energy to watch this film during the carefree early days of summer?
- The Orlando massacre. Much has been written about what happened at Pulse. I believe the horrors of what people must have faced that night as they were intentionally hunted and killed is comparable to what is depicted in this movie. Whereas this movie primarily focuses on Jewish prisoners, the lives of homosexuals (as well as Roma Gypsies, dissenting clergy, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, Socialists, Poles, Russians, black people and the disabled) were destroyed – whether through theft, sterilization or outright murder – by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.
- “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – That quote by Spanish philosopher George Santayana offers a way to think about Son of Saul. Sadly, some people today still want to differentiate individuals based on any number of factors in order to vilify, marginalize and harm the perceived “outsiders.” However, we’re all outsiders in some manner and can easily be categorized into a subgroup.
Are we heading toward a world engulfed in Nazism 2.0? I, for one, sincerely hope not. While I think there is evil in the world, I also do not believe most people would stand for that type of horror at that scale.
However, it is easy to slowly slip into generalizations and those characterizations can quickly take on a life of their own. Thus, I would advocate against categorizing groups by using broad labels that harp on perceived negative qualities. Instead, I’d encourage all lifelong learners to take a view of the world in which we appreciate individual differences and learn about each other.
Son of Saul paints a devastating picture of what the world has been – and could be again. It’s a lesson we really need to review today.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (ND). Survivors and Victims.
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