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Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Review by Tom Cappello

In the bio-picture Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005), the true heartlessness of man and its resilient, fighting spirit is explored through one woman's resistance of the Third Reich. German men are dying on the battlefields in great numbers, and rumors of human extermination of the Jews and the sickly are becoming more credible.

 

The White Rose, a University of Munich student resistance movement against the Nazi regime, has been distributing anti-Nazi propaganda and leaflets encouraging passive resistance to silently encourage the downfall of the government. One afternoon, Sophie and her brother, Hans, decide to distribute extra leaflets through the hallways of the University of Munich. Upon leaving the building, Sophie pushes the final pile of leaflets off the third floor ledge sending the papers fluttering down into the courtyard. A school janitor captures Sophie and Hans, and this action seals their fate in the hands of the Gestapo.

 

Printing, mailing, and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets by this tight-knit group of young, underground intellectuals is both suspenseful and engrossing during the opening 15 minutes of the film. The viewer gets an inside look at the inner-workings of bold steps being taken by average citizens. But once Sophie and her brother are captured, the movie becomes over-long and stagnant.

The movie is a faithful adaptation of transcripts that were recorded during the actual interrogation of Sophie Scholl. There is no denying that these characters are heroes that died for their ideals, and that the themes of the film are admirable. But the energy of seeing the White Rose in action is lost once Sophie spends nearly the entire rest of the movie in a jail cell and an interrogation room. We hear the character speak to her interrogator or cell mate, but the visual pacing does not effectively get the message across to the audience.

There is a nice use of the visual motif of windows throughout the film. Sophie looks to the sky for divine intervention prior to distributing the leaflets, while being interrogated, and while trapped in her cell. The window and sky ultimately become a symbol of Sophie's hope for release or the temporary breaking of her will.

The ending is haunting and nicely executed as the character's final words or screams are heard over black. The earnestness and strong resolve of Sophie comes shining through in Ms. Julia Jentsch's performance during Sophie's interrogation and final moments. This was a brave woman well beyond her years and director Marc Rothemund does a good job of reminding us how young these students really are through a subtle playfulness by the actors throughout the film. The character that does not work is Detective Robert Mohr. The performance is fine, but he is written and portrayed as a sympathetic character just surviving a fascist dictatorship. The sullen look by Mohr as Sophie marches to the guillotine in the end plays false and soft for a man that was her executioner.

In the end, Sophie Scholl is a great history lesson about true heroes and their heroic actions. The film was nominated by the Academy this year for Best Foreign Language Film (losing to the South African film, Tsotsi), and won numerous German and European film awards. Getting access inside the Nazi terror regime and the White Rose was well worth the price of admission. If the intensity of Sophie's final days in the interrogation room were as dynamic as the film's open and climax, then Sophie Scholl would be delivering its message to a larger audience.

 


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