The actions, or lack of action, by Pope Pius XII during World War II and the Holocaust, when Hitler’s National Socialists murdered millions of Jews and other people, is one of history’s mysteries that has led to much speculation and debate. Marxist political filmmaker Costa-Gavras (Z and MISSING) adopts the anti-pope position in his new English language movie, AMEN.
The movie focuses on the true story of SS Lieutenant Kurt Gerstein, a respected chemist who discovers that his superiors are using the Zyklon B pellets that he developed to disinfect soldiers’ drinking water to gas imprisoned Jews by the thousands. A team of top SS officers, led by a man known only as “The Doctor,” recruits Gerstein to help streamline the process. While trying to do everything he can think of to slow down and delay the process, Gerstein secretly approaches the Swedish Consulate, the German Protestant community, and finally the Vatican, to expose these murderous activities to the whole world. Father Riccardo, a young Jesuit priest with deep family connections at the Vatican, tries to help Gerstein. After many entreaties, however, Pope Pius XII declines to make any overt mention of the Holocaust. Eventually, Father Riccardo dies in the concentration camps, the cynical Doctor escapes to Argentina, and Gerstein hangs himself after the French charge him as a war criminal.
AMEN makes clear that Gerstein’s efforts to help the Jews stem from his firm Protestant Christian faith. Playing Gerstein is Ulrich Tukur, who also played Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, the Protestant objector to Hitler’s reign of terror, in the MOVIEGUIDE® award-winning video BONHOEFFER: AGENT OF GRACE. Ulrich does another marvelous job as the conscience-stricken SS officer. He does such a good job that it’s hard to believe that this movie’s Gerstein, a dedicated family man, would have abandoned his wife and kids by committing suicide. Although the movie itself strongly suggests that Gerstein hanged himself, the movie’s press notes say that Gerstein could have been murdered by other SS officers in the prison. Ultimately, though, it is Tukur’s performance and the restrained direction by Costa-Gavras that makes AMEN so compelling to watch.
Be that as it may, the movie’s position that Pope Pius XII did next to nothing to stop Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews does not hold water historically. While it probably is true that the pope, not to mention the whole world, did not do nearly enough, there is good evidence that Pope Pius did much to encourage his priests to save as many Jews as they could. Thus, by some accounts, the Roman Catholic church alone helped to save 800,000 Jews or more.
By focusing on only one Roman Catholic priest fighting Hitler’s reign of terror, and a fictional, composite character at that, Costa-Gavras rewrites history so that the pope, and his top Vatican officials, look as bad as possible. This, and other things, suggest that Costa-Gavras has an agenda other than merely telling the truth.
All of this, in fact, seems to give AMEN a liberal worldview that undermines the institution of the church, the Bride of Christ. This is the subtle subtext of the movie. Similar liberal viewpoints have led to declines in the power of churches and denominations over their flocks, and over society.
AMEN would have been much more powerful if it had taken a stronger Christian worldview that is more biblical. Apparently, Gerstein’s official testimony about the Holocaust, delivered to authorities before he died, provided the Allies with some of their most detailed accounts of Hitler’s National Socialist murder mills. In fact, the Allies actually used Gerstein’s testimony at the Nuremberg trials. Thus, instead of focusing on the Vatican’s alleged apathy and the tragic deaths of Father Riccardo and Gerstein, AMEN should have done more to bring out the positive aspects of the true histrical record. By doing so, the movie could have avoided the spirit of liberal defeatism that occupies its ending. Then, instead of the triumph of evil that overwhelms the movie’s end, viewers could have received a picture of the ultimate triumph of God and Truth over great evil.
This shows why the Christian worldview of art is superior to others. It also shows the damage that revisionist history can do to creating art, including filmmaking. For, the history of the world is really the history of the ultimate triumph of God, and the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil and Truth over Falsehood. Filmmakers help themselves when they have a proper Christian worldview and a proper view of history. They are also more likely to better inform viewers and enrich their lives.
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SUMMARY: AMEN tells the tragic, true story of an SS officer in Hitler’s Germany during World War II who secretly tries to get the pope’s help in exposing the facts of Hitler’s murder of the Jews. A liberal anti-pope attitude, and some revisionist history, diminishes this movie’s Christian worldview.
(CC, RHRH, Ab, L, V, N, A, D, M) Liberal Christian worldview with a revisionist rewrite of history designed to attack the Roman Catholic pope's role in the Holocaust during World War II; one light obscenity and two light exclamatory profanities; restrained Holocaust, war violence such as German officer shoots two Jewish prisoners, implied euthanasia of mentally handicapped, implied gassing of Jewish families to death, soldiers burn bodies in mass grave from afar, and air raids; no sex; brief upper male nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, apathy toward murder and people passively accept totalitarianism.
GENRE: Historical Drama