Frankfurt School and Heidegger infuse von Donnersmarck’s film
The distraction of almost obtusely misleading subtitles aside, I was pretty much mesmerised by the first 45 minutes of the film, which had me close to tears on several occasions. Elisabeth May’s (Saskia Rosendahl) composition for Hitler, her desperate pleas with the stony SS doctor, Herr Professor Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch), and the shower sequence, condemned as gratuitous and in bad taste by some reviewers (the New Yorker’s Antony Lane showed a rare lack of judgement in joining that choir).
Perhaps in writing and shooting the disputed sequences von Donnersmarck was concerned that we, as a contemporary audience far removed from the reality of such deeds, might miss the complete lack of empathy and human decency he was trying to express. It seems to me von Donnersmarck is right. Even those of us sensitive to such messages in film mostly do not see the real consequences of contemporary red pencil annotations, despite reading daily about shocking child abuse, suicide rates, drug addiction, homelessness, and the privations of poverty. We do not connect these with deliberate actions whose agents pretend they are only doing their jobs. Or who actually believe that some people should be made to suffer for the good of others.