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Before the Fall - Movie Review

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An issue that had been a stain on the German consciousness since the Second World War would have to be related to the guilt they collectively feel as a nation for their actions in the war, as well as the genocide of the Jewish people. Since 1945, there had been many attempts to commemorate the war and the Holocaust, with projects including numerous monuments, programs to help those victimized and or displaced by conflict, and even a Partition Plan by the United Nations (UN) to give the Jewish community a territory. This led to conflict in the area as existing leaders of the states in the region rejected this proposal. Conflict continues up to this day. From this example, we see how seemingly well-meaning initiatives may have unforeseen consequences that would evolve from the current conditions of one period to another, over a long amount of time. The German resolve to remember the atrocities of war, and their society’s dedication to reconciling with the world as well as themselves for the Holocaust, is one such initiative.

In the time after the war, German society faced a number of problems such as the split of the state between the Socialist East, and the Capitalist West. The two were physically reconciled in 1990, however the ideological divide still had to be addressed and reunification of the people as a whole and as a nation was a persistent problem in society. In trying to quell inner turmoil, a means to bring the people together over one issue is necessary to bridge the gaps formed in the community. For Germany, one such issue was the public memory of the Second World War, and the tragedies of the Holocaust, which as a common point between the people. This gave way to the national concept of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or the sentiment that they must ‘master their past.’ [1] This fixation on not repeating past mistakes shaped the discourse on the war for decades to come after its close in 1945. Through this, they initiated numerous acts of historic commemoration, serving as a sort of way to use a focus on the past to shape the future of the state. The sentiment actually borrows from the history of Germany, prior to the Second World War, where the state had trouble uniting the Germanic tribes under one banner, and it was necessary to establish common point of their culture for them to come together.[2] In the latter half of the 20th century however, the adherence to public memory influenced the evolution of the relationship between Germany and the entire European community.

In 1970, the world experienced the rise of what is called as the Holocaust Industry,[3] through which the public memory of the Holocaust is commoditized and the meaning of what the Holocaust is to the German people, as well as the Jewish people, would be reviewed and become the topic of a lot of debate. The Holocaust itself is viewed as a singularly evil event, and Germany in the years immediately after the war believed a healthy national identity could only be achieved when they come to terms with the event. Following this, the teaching of these events were included in some classrooms. Memorials were put up in places like Auschwitz, while damages and repercussions were paid to victims. However, there was an unforeseen effect that came up because of the fervor of the German people and the rest of the world had while they pursued their commitment to remembering the Holocaust. A fixation on the public memory led to what is called as the Holocaust Effect.[4] [5]

The Holocaust Effect stems from the commitment to record Nazi crimes and knowledge of the atrocities of the Second World War, and the scale it was done with is really big. Although one issue many people at the time had for the effect was that it led to the commoditization of the actual victims.[6] Documentaries, books, and other publications all fell into the same formula when presenting the subject, and went with similar approaches to shocking their viewers with graphic images of skeleton-like people, dead bodies, living and dead children, and also abandoned homes and villages. These all ended up becoming like stock-images, and while the honest desire to spread awareness was without a doubt still there, the effort to institutionalize the public memory lessened the saliency of their act of remembering on a global scale.[7] However, other critics of the Holocaust industry say there is an active effort to manipulate holocaust memory, and that the act of selling the Holocaust to the world rather than teaching it to them would be in line with other states’ efforts to avoid looking at themselves and realizing what is referred to as their own ‘moral bankruptcies at home’.[8] 

To a lesser degree, the commoditization of the Holocaust Industry may be observed in the media produced in society today. For example, while there are realistic depictions of the people, events, and repercussions of the Second World War and the Holocaust, there are also games, books, television shows, and movies which continue to use this time as the subject or setting of their content. One such movie would be “Before the Fall” (2004). Directed by Dennis Gansel, the German movie is about a student at an academy in Germany during WWII, and how he deals with the Nazi community there despite not actually believing in Nazi teachings himself. On one hand, this movie highlights the bad aspects of the Nazi regime and how it even affects children because of the propaganda and blind following by so many German individuals. However, given this context of being someone from the modern world watching the movie, a lot of existing content about the subject already deals with the struggles of watching the movie with morals formed by today’s society. The movie doesn’t give enough reason for the main character to be conflicted about the Nazi teachings, since he didn’t believe in them in the first place. So the conflict of the film was shallow and didn’t go past a simple performance that told the watchers of the movie that Nazis are bad, and that you shouldn’t believe in them. What films like this mean for the public memory of the Holocaust is that, on its own, it’s just a simple film. But when considering all the other movies like this one, we see that the dialogue on WWII and holocaust memory is stagnating and being milked dry 70 years after the event itself. Media about the issue becomes like the stock-images of dead bodies, and no longer brings up any new ideas about how people should think about the memory.



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