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Spring 2006 | Volume 29, Number 2 | Books & Film

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days Delivers Stirring Portrait

One Woman Versus the Nazis

{ MOVIE REVIEW }DEAR GOD, I CAN DO NOTHING but stammer to you,” prays Sophie Scholl, kneeling in her prison cell while her Nazi captors decide how to deal with her. The prayer is a profound moment in Marc Rothemund’s riveting film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. Through most of the movie, Scholl’s defiant stare and laser-beam intensity keep viewers pinned to their seats while she engages in an unforgettable battle of wits with her interrogator. This quiet scene gives us a brief spell of relief from the ordeal, as Scholl finds a chance to let down her guard and reach out for God’s help.

But it’s also a heartbreaking moment, for it reminds us Scholl was not one of the superhuman saviors Hollywood likes to put on the screen. She was a flesh-and-blood champion, equipped with the same resources as the rest of us, willing to take on far more than one Goliath, with far less than a slingshot.

Actress Julia Jentsch delivers an awardworthy performance as one of World War II’s most unlikely heroes: a 21-year-old German woman with remarkable intelligence and verve who, fueled by her faith in God and her hatred for Hitler’s agenda, stood up and fearlessly condemned the Nazis. In Germany today, Scholl and her brother Hans are two of the most popular and beloved historical figures. In fact, almost 200 German schools are named after Sophie. Even if you know how her story ends, you should add this to your “must-see” list. It isn’t a film about surprise endings — it’s about quick thinking and unfathomable courage.

The movie opens as Sophie joins other members of the White Rose, an organization devoted to spreading awareness of Hitler’s lies. They print informational pamphlets about Jews being forced into concentration camps by Hitler’s forces, and about the slaughter of innocents at Stalingrad. In a hushed and hurried endeavor, she agrees to join Hans (Fabian Hinrichs) in a bold maneuver: distributing the pamphlets in broad daylight at the local university.

Before long, furious Nazi officers have dragged in their suspects, and Sophie takes her place for what will become one of the most gripping confrontations since Agent Clarice Starling first faced Hannibal Lecter. But unlike those short, frightful exchanges in The Silence of the Lambs, the interrogation of Sophie Scholl goes on and on, and Scholl is up to the task. Watch as she slowly turns the tables on her interrogator, Robert Mohr (played with equally impressive intelligence by Alexander Held). You can see her fiery diatribe striking sparks of doubt in Mohr’s mind, and he scrambles to stamp them out.

At first, Scholl’s argument is a breathtaking tightrope act. She assembles an impressive alibi and tries to disassociate herself from the accusations. But the game she’s playing becomes increasingly dangerous, and hers is not the only life on the line. Soon, she’ll have to weigh her answers in consideration of how they will affect her associates. The tightrope catches fire.

It is thrilling to watch a character who relies so openly and honestly on her Christian faith to sustain her through dark times.

Imagine what would have happened if this film had been made in Hollywood: We would have seen a story of how one brave young woman believed in herself. Anyone watching this film closely will have no doubt that Sophie is relying on something greater. “I can do nothing but hold out my heart to you,” Sophie prays. “You created us in your likeness. Our hearts are uneasy until they find peace in you.” (Some reviewers are determined to ignore the source of her selflessness and zeal; Salon’s film critic praises Sophie’s “faith in the future.”)

Seeing previews for Sophie Scholl, moviegoers are likely to groan, “No, no, not another movie about the Nazis.” But this is not just another World War II story. Rothemund and screenwriter Fred Breinersdorfer mined some rich veins of eyewitness testimony, along with Gestapo records recently recovered from the archives of the East German government, to give the film rare authenticity — and yet it achieves more in the way of spiritual inspiration than it does in historical education.

The filmmakers’ choice to focus on the six crucial days of Sophie’s interrogation prevents us from developing an intimate understanding of her thoughts, motivations, and background. But that is not a flaw so much as a creative choice — they’re interested not in a life story but in the character of a woman under pressure. This has prompted some critics to reference Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc in their reviews, perhaps the only comparable Christian woman commemorated on the screen with such reverence and artistry. That comparison accentuates, unfortunately, the film’s only serious weakness: rather unremarkable cinematography. But that’s a minor quibble. We should be grateful that Rothemund has framed such a powerful portrait of inspiring Christian courage. It’s high time that American audiences became acquainted with Sophie Scholl’s story.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is playing in selected cities during a limited theatrical release. A DVD release from Zeitgeist Films is likely in October or November 2006. Nazi oppression may have died with the Third Reich, but Scholl is a hero for today — a hero with a razor-sharp intellect, a discerning conscience, and the bravery to vocally challenge what others, out of fear for their own safety, quietly ignore. She should be remembered and revered, and moviegoers should seize the opportunity to share the experience of this film with their families, friends, and neighbors.


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