Just yesterday I posted the above picture from a CNN story on my Facebook wall and it started a pretty lively debate. That debate wasn’t about the Holocaust but rather if this sort of anti-Semitism directly correlates to the President we currently have in office. This is not a political forum for me but I will say violence was threatened. As was…making friends and reading comic books. It was a pretty weird conversation they all got into.
Holocaust denial is nothing new and will continue to be nothing new. The Holocaust is perhaps the most famous attempt in the 20th century to eradicate members of the human race but there have been other wars, other casualties, and a tiny event known as the Pogroms.
Last year’s film Denial is actually a very true story about Holocaust denier David Irving suing publisher Penguin Books. The libel in question was written in Deborah Lipstadt’s 1993 book Denying the Holocaust.
The film presents David Irving (played perfectly by Timothy Spall) as a blowhard that the British people have tuned out. When he focuses on Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) he thinks it can finally bring him the attention he deserves. Irving takes over a Q&A trying to force Lipstadt into a debate (which she would not do) and finally bringing the libel case against the publisher.
Lipstadt is a Jewish historian and knows full well that the Holocaust happened. To bring it into a field of debate with some like Irving is just giving Irving a forum to spew his hate. Lipstadt knows it is all part of his game. But when the libel suit happens she has to choose if she wants to go to court. She chooses yes. And so goes years of her life as she gets a lawyer, the lawyer builds a team, and they begin researching the case against Irving.
The thing is the case was brought to a British court, which works differently than an American court. As the defendant it was up to Lipstadt’s legal team to prove that her claims in her book were true. Basically they have to expose Irving for the horrible bastard that he truly is.
I got to learn a bit about the British legal system in this movie I suppose. We meet Lipstadt’s team which includes solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson). It’s not like the law here where the guy who puts together the case is also the guy that represents you. In England the solicitor is the guy who puts the case together and the barrister who is the one to get up in court for you. As they say in the film, it’s worked great for them thus far.
Lipstadt is eager to bring Irving down and expose him for the fraud he is. The thing is her legal team is very precise. This is because Irving has chosen to represent himself. That means that anyone that is put on the stand can be cross-examined by Irving himself. If Lipstadt is on the stand, he gets to debate her. If they put any Holocaust survivors on the stand, he can badger them that way himself. The team decides on a strategy that focuses on Irving’s lies.
Problem with this is that Lipstadt is a fighter. She doesn’t want to shy away from him. She wants to get on the stand. She wants to put survivors on the stand. She wants to talk to the press. She doesn’t want to sit there and keep her mouth shut. But the legal team has their reasons and their strategy – they just need to get to court.
The first 50 or so minutes of this film is set up for the court case. It works well because you meet all of the main characters and their motivations. You see how they work. You get to know them a bit. You actually understand the consequences if a man like Irving wins a libel case like this. The last hour or so is the actual meat-and-bones of the movie as we delve into the actual courtroom. This is when the movie fully picks up steam.
When I first saw the trailer for this film I ran home and looked it up on Wikipedia. I totally ruined the ending for myself without seeing the movie. Still – I totally wanted to see it. The subject matter alone is quite interesting and seeing how the case played out on-screen made it even more so.
I just…I love Rachel Weisz. Along with Cate Blanchett I feel that she is one of the top actresses of my generation. She is a powerhouse and can usually bring phenomenal performances to her films. Yes…even those Mummy movies.
At the end of the day though – what does it matter if things like that above picture still pop up? If people actually believe that the Holocaust STILL didn’t happen. It’s heartbreaking.
The movie actually mentions Fred Leuchter who was a man who went to Auschwitz, illegally took samples of walls, illegally smuggled them out, and brought them back to America to see if cyanide was actually used in the gas chambers. The results said no cyanide was used. This was actually one of the events that played out in Irving’s mind that the Holocaust never happened and that no one was gassed.
After watching Denial I then watched Errol Morris’ amazing documentary on Leuchter called Mr. Death which actually has real footage of the man taking the samples from Auschwitz for a Canadian court case. The thing is the way he tried to get results was faulty – basically because the man truly didn’t know what he was doing. He reached the false conclusion and ran with it. The documentary itself tells the story of a man who became a Holocaust denier and desecrated a memorial site when he truly had no clue what he was doing. It’s powerful stuff and in today’s “alternative facts” world it is important to see how these things truly come about.
I wanted to see this film in theaters but never got the chance. After what happened last night on Facebook I thought it time to finally watch it. I’m glad I did. While the beginning can be a bit slow because of the build-up the second half of the film really makes up for it. Just be prepared for some heavy subject matter – you aren’t watching Super Troopers here.
Overall I thought this was just a great, powerful movie with an amazing performance by Harry Potter’s Timothy Spall. I really wish Weisz could have broken out more but it is a more nuanced role. She watches the events unfold around her without saying a word. Yet there is no one better for the role than Weisz. And while I’m a horribly slow reader I think I’ll have to get around to reading both Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust book AND the book she wrote on this court case that they based this film on. Sounds like they are one hell of a read.