C for Courage, F for Freedom, R for Resistance – Sophie Scholl and V for Vendetta: a contrast of ideologies
Posted by E on August 7, 2007
Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure! Every individual human being has a claim to a useful and just state, which secures freedom of the individual as well as the good of the whole.
– from leaflets distributed by the White Rose
When I first saw the movie V for Vendetta a couple of years back, there was a striking familiarity about it, one that I just couldn’t, try as I might, put my finger on. A sensation of déjà vu, like a fleeting fragrance, echoed through my memory.
“I know this story”, I said to myself. “I have heard these words before.”
Months went by and that nagging itch just didn’t go away. I felt Vendetta tapped into a collective unconsciousness for a lot of people, myself included.
I spent my teenage years involved with revolutionary movements; I knew people who spent their lives as part of an underground of political activity. So the explosive theories of V were not exactly foreign to me; the concept of overthrowing a corrupt system was just a refrain of earlier days. Still, there was something else there.
Months later, I finally saw a film I had put off seeing for various personal reasons. The German movie Sophie Scholl – the Final Days is about the journey of two siblings involved with the covert WW2 resistance group The White Rose. The ending of that journey is betrayed by the title, and the film is a realistic glimpse (based on newly-discovered interrogation and arrest records) of only the final six days of their lives.
Sophie and her brother Hans were bright university students who came from a privileged liberal family. Prior to their political activity, Hans was a member of the Nazi party while Sophie had an active membership in the Hitler Youth. Although not covered in the film, Sophie’s disillusionment with the BDM (the girls’ wing of the HY) stemmed from her observation of others’ treatment of a Jewish friend.
Along with a number of other students from the Munich University (curiously, not much of the group’s involvement is depicted in the film), they founded The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group that lasted from June 1942 to February 1943.
This German film, the third adaptation of the story (with another Hollywood adaptation featuring Christina Ricci as Sophie coming out soon) is the most accurate rendition to date of the Scholls’ final days.
Sauce Magazine describes the story: “On Feb. 18, 1943, the siblings go to the Munich campus to stack propaganda flyers while all the other students are in class. But a janitor spies the pair, and they are quickly arrested for distributing seditionist literature. Seemingly unruffled, the clever Scholl spins such a convincing web of lies that her interrogators are prepared to let her go. But then a damning bit of evidence is discovered, and she has no recourse but to admit guilt.
What follows over the next few days is a stark and powerful interrogation-turned-debate between Scholl and her captor, Gestapo officer Robert Mohr (Alexander Held). The outcome, of course, is inevitable. But Scholl remains stalwart, refusing to give up the others in the resistance. Even Mohr respects her, and he wrestles with the convictions of her morality. He offers her a way out, pleading with her to refute her words, but she refuses and is handed over to a sham court to await her death sentence and execution.”
Noy Thrupkaew of American Prospect describes the lead character: “Julia Jentsch makes an indelible Sophie – girlish face set in nearly supernatural resolve. There are faint quavers, perhaps one cry of anguish, tears silver her lower lashes, but that is all. Sophie lies with unbelievable skill, her brain clacking away as her face betrays nothing. Finally confronted with her brother’s confession, she gives up the game, but with a fierce pride that is just as disconcerting as her cool lies.
That so much of the film centers on Sophie’s interrogation is at once thrilling and vexing – under such attack, why should Sophie reveal herself to her interrogator or to us? Sophie’s dignity falls around her like a mantle, and we are left to admire her steely composure, just as we strain to see past it. She obscures herself with lies at first, and then after her confession, engages in an ideological battle with Mohr, increasingly unnerved by her unshaken conviction. Here, the film loses some of its pitched momentum — the two seem less like three-dimensional characters than representatives in a clash of civilizations: liberal intellectual idealist versus impoverished, embittered working-class foot soldier.”
As I watched Sophie Scholl-the Final Days, I was suddenly flooded with the realization of what had bugged me all that time about V for Vendetta: as a child I had read about the White Rose and that underground group of students, and there were clear parallels between reality and fiction.
In fact, one can hardly abstain from comparing the two films. Both coming out at the same time, one being about V, a larger-than-life masked super-hero freedom-fighter who uses every means necessary to bring about social change, and assists a young woman named Evie to break from the matrix; the other about an indescript, yet real young girl with enough integrity to listen to nothing but her conscience and convictions.
V for Vendetta shows us a world of abject totalitarianism. In such a world, when enough people disappear, those who remain will come to believe that the state’s masters are truly all-powerful, capable of inflicting swift and harsh punishment if they step out of line for even an instant. Of course, many will also bow to the state because they believe that the state can protect them from all the bad things in the world. In either case, mass obedience rests not on the state’s day-to-day acts of oppression but the belief that the state has unlimited power to protect and punish.
Anything that undermines the people’s belief in the state’s omnipresence weakens the people’s acceptance of authoritarianism, and thus anything which causes the people to look at the state with less than awe must be suppressed. V for Vendetta makes this point by showing how the state regards humor at its expense as almost equally as great a threat to its’ rule as V’s attacks.
But where the summer blockbuster V for Vendetta chooses to cop out and rely on an explosive, muddled ending, the ending of Sophie Scholl can be described as steely, horrific, and visceral to the core.
There have been other reviews that compare these two films and their angles, but to me it always comes back to what kind of activism you find conscientious – non-violent resistance vs. terrorism in the name of freedom.
I will not stand here and argue that I oppose the latter without exceptions, since the label “terrorist” is often accorded to anyone who rebels against the status quo. In Eastern Europe, the revolutionaries who brought down communist dictatorships had to resort to such force and indeed were labeled terrorists. But their action in 1989 was necessary to give birth to the freedom that is now taken for granted. I have seen that freedom in the country of my birth, Romania, and it is undescribably sweet.
But after all the roads I’ve traveled on, the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve spoken to, I must confess that it isn’t a bold revolutionary act that makes an impression on me – but the quiet inner resolution that makes one individual refuse to back down.
Whether the lone Chinese man in front of the oncoming tank in Tiananmen square, the Buddhist nun arrested in Tibet, or a young girl like Sophie Scholl who distributes a secret pamphlet – the revolution is in the expression of silent dissent and integrity. The revolution lives – not in a grenade, but in the written word.