Margarethe Von Trotta
Margarethe Von Trotta

Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt

Barbara Sukowa
Barbara Sukowa

“Hannah Arendt” is not about the trial of Adolf Eichmann (the Nazi transportation administrator sending Jews and non-Jews to extermination-camps) that was held in Jerusalem in 1961and which Hannah Arendt attended as a journalist working for The New Yorker, and it is not about her love relations with Martin Heidegger which intrigues the public already for decades, and it is about the very personality and destiny of Hannah Arendt only to the degree that she personifies, for Von Trotta, philosophical thinking about life (disinterested, dedicated to truth and independent from “profane“ motivations). Arendt’s understanding (celebrated by Von Trotta) of Eichmann criminal behavior creates a breakthrough in how we perceive human reality – either we approach it from the depths of our emotions or, conversely, through existentially scientific thinking. Our emotional life grows from pre-democratic traditions – it includes righteously vengeful impulsivity that should be sublimated through the effort of democratic reason.

Criminal (anti-democratic) behavior has to be understood rationally to make possible its future prevention. Scientific understanding of crime doesn’t interfere with punishment as our unconscious belief suggests. That’s what the critics of Arendt’s objective understanding of Eichmann’s crimes don’t get – they are afraid that if Arendt’s definition of the nature of evil is correct, Eichmann will not be punished. Punishment of the crimes committed is absolutely necessary but it is not suppose to be determined by our prejudices – those flowers of our impulsive or compulsive emotions.

When truth is worked out analytically and explained scholarly – with the language of truth, without propagandist or subjectivist distortions, it gives us the chance to trace the pure logic of criminal behavior, and then it becomes possible to try to connect different historical epochs that habitually seem incomparable. This philosophical “miracle” of comparing the psychological essence of Eichmann’s crimes with that of the reactions of many on Arendt’s view about these crimes Von Trotta’s film creates not only before our very eyes, but before our minds. The psychological reality (be it intolerance – fanaticism, or indifference –turning the soul off) has a “magic” ability to be easily transformed into criminal behavior, and Von Trotta’s film psycho-dramatically transferred us from WWII crimes against humanity to New-York of Sixties where Hannah Arendt had a teaching job.

The film gives us chance to experience what happened when the publishing, academic and Jewish communities learned about Arendt’s interpretation of Eichmann’s crimes. According to her, crimes, even arch-crimes may be committed not by monsters and devil‘s salesmen and agents but by an ordinary, trivial people who are just trying to survive, make careers, use the opportunity to move up the social ladder, who try to be an exemplary employees and please their employers and provide a better life for their families and children. In other words, it is enough not to learn how to think more philosophically (existentially spiritually, disinterestedly), not to pay attention to the difference between truth and not-truth, not to learn how to separate truth from our wishful thinking and from our naïve instinctive desire to take advantage of others by deploying instinctively manipulative – propagandist “thinking”, etc., to be seriously vulnerable to become part of any type of organized (ideologically justified) criminality.

People started to accuse Arendt in protecting Eichmann, in hating Jews, in being self-hating Jew and many other “sins” and to try to hurt her (by publicly labeling and insulting her and making steps towards taking her job from her). Because she put into practice her freedom of scientific speech they became haters of free speech and free thinking. Their reaction made them in psychological essence like Soviet Communists or German Nazis. Some publishers were afraid to lose their subscribers, academicians – of losing their jobs, and many in Jewish community started unconsciously use the disaster of Holocaust to allow themselves pompous narcissistic righteousness.

Sometimes it’s enough to have an encounter with free speech (contradicting our views) to be transformed into anti-democratic zealots and fanatics ready for semi-legal or illegal behavior. Von Trotta transforms this paradigmatic situation (that we today observe in the neo-conservative politicians and financial manipulators) into a philosophical and cognitive psychotherapy with the viewers. She shows us the very emotional mechanism at work inside people and nations – of phobic aversion to free speech and free thinking as soon as its content appears to be contrary to our views, of proclivity to react on free speech as if it is an attack on us by the hordes of the devil, and then we feel ourselves as guardians of godly truth only we can understand. That’s exactly how the Soviet Communists and German Nazis felt and acted.

Barbara Sukowa‘s Hanna Arendt is an exceptionally developed and mature personality – Arendt never passionately defends herself against the attacks on her thinking. She doesn’t protect herself psychologically with euphoric bravado either – she feels the pain from these attacks, but she continues to go about explaining what she thinks and why she thinks as she does. Sukowa makes Arendt a person of grace. Her presence on the screen as Hannah Arendt is a personification of a democratic personality – strong by the very absence of psychological armor and defensive alertness. We don’t see this type of female characters in American moves today, although they existed before, for example, Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) in “The Night of The Iguana” by John Huston (1964).

Philosophically intellectual women exist in USA today but they are not represented in commercial cinema oriented on typical, spectacular and easy for perception deformed by entertainment. It is very bad especially for American girls who don’t see intellectual women as role-models on the cinematic screen. We need our own, “American grown” Hannah Arendts, Margarethe von Trottas and Barbara Sukowas.