"True Beauty Reveals Truth"
NEVER LOOK AWAY is a German drama about a young man who grows up in Hitler’s National Socialist Germany and then becomes trapped in East Germany as an artist making murals for the International Socialist state until he and his wife escape to the West and have to forge a new life. Unknown to the young man, however, is that his wife is the daughter of the Nazi doctor who condemned his beloved but mentally ill aunt to the gas chambers. NEVER LOOK AWAY is a great anti-socialist German movie by the director of the anti-communist masterpiece THE LIVES OF OTHERS, but it’s marred by some sex scenes and scenes with excessive nudity.
The movie opens in 1937 with a very young Kurt and his beloved Aunt Elisabeth, who’s about 19, visiting a Nazi art exhibit in Dresden condemning modern art. The docent at the art exhibit condemns all modern art as decadent and without timeless values. Kurt’s aunt, however, secretly tells Kurt that she likes one of the paintings by the acclaimed artist Kandinsky. Kurt himself has some artistic talent, and Elisabeth encourages him. They ride the bus back home, which is 45 miles away from the city. Kurt’s father was removed from his teaching job in the city because he wouldn’t become a member of the Nazi Party. However, a conversation on the bus between Kurt and Elisabeth reveals that Kurt’s mother wants his father to join the Nazi Party anyway, because she thinks it eventually will be a good thing for his career and for the family.
One day shortly thereafter, Elisabeth is picked at her school to be the one to hand a bouquet of flowers to Adolf Hitler as he visits the city. All the girls at the school are excited by the brief visit. The next day, it’s revealed that Kurt draws pretty detailed sketches of people, including a nude female person who looks like his aunt. He hears a piano playing out in the living room, and Aunt Elisabeth is sitting naked at the piano playing. She tells him to “Never look away,” adding “Everything that’s true is beautiful.” At that point, the family enters and take Elisabeth to the doctor.
At the doctor, Kurt’s mother begs the doctor not to tell the Health Authority about his young aunt. The doctor has diagnosed Elisabeth with a case of schizophrenia. However, after the family leaves, however, the doctor calls the Health Authority. Cut to a wrenching scene where men in white coats drag Elisabeth into a waiting van while the family watches. Kurt tries to hide the sight by covering his eyes with his hand a couple times, but he finally looks unaided as a sedated Elisabeth looks forlornly out the back window of the van.
Three years later, a Nazi doctor named Carl Seeband and other Nazi doctors are given orders to sterilize some of the mental health patients under their care and condemn to death others. Our soldiers need access to those hospital beds, the head Nazi tells the doctors gathered around a table. Dr. Seeband, who fancies himself a “Professor,” meets with Elisabeth, who’s scheduled to be sterilized later that day. Elisabeth tries to ingratiate herself with the doctor by talking about his daughter’s drawing. When he steps out the door to talk with the distraught father of a patient, Elisabeth secretly takes a look at her file on his desk and discovers she’s scheduled for sterilization. When the doctor returns, he’s noticed she’s looked at the file. Elizabeth starts to cajole the doctor to call off the operation and soon becomes hysterical. The male nurses drag her away, and Dr. Seeband puts a red plus sign on her file, the sign to send her to the concentration camp to be executed.
When her family comes to visit Elisabeth, they learn she’s been put in another facility to the east, two days away. Unknown to the family, the movie shows Elisabeth being put into the gas chamber, disguised as a shower with a bunch of other women.
After the war, Dr. Seeband is captured, but he pretends not to have even met the man who gave them the order to kill mentally ill patients. However, when he saves the life of the Russian area commander’s daughter, who’s having a difficult pregnancy, the commander promises to protect Dr. Seeband. Meanwhile, the Soviet authorities in East Germany tell Kurt’s father that, since he eventually joined the Nazi Party, he can’t teach any more at all. The mother’s plan about the benefits of being a Nazi Party member have turned to naught.
As for Kurt, he soon starts becoming a sign painter for the State. However, when his boss notices that Kurt likes to make sketches on the side, he promises to give him a recommendation to the art academy. Kurt starts the art academy and meets a pretty girl who reminds him of his Aunt Elisabeth and even has the same name. When he asks her if she has another name, she tells him her father calls her, “Ellie.”
Kurt and Ellie begin an affair, but her parents live in another town. When they come to visit, however, Ellie’s father turns out to be the notorious Dr. Seeband. They keep their affair secret, but when Ellie becomes pregnant, they decide to tell Ellie’s parents. Dr. Seeband is clearly distraught, but he hides his feelings well. So, he makes up a lie about Ellie’s childhood health and says she needs an operation before she can give birth. So, he convinces Ellie and Kurt he must perform an abortion on Ellie’s unborn child, thinking that the trauma of the event will cause Kurt to lose interest in Ellie.
This doesn’t happen, however, and eventually Kurt and Ellie get married. Meanwhile, Dr. Seeband’s Soviet benefactor has advised the doctor he’s being transferred to Moscow and can no longer protect him. The Nazi official who gave the order is still on the loose, so he advises the doctor to move to the West with his wife.
Kurt turns out to be one of the socialist state’s best mural painters, but he chafes at the lack of freedom he has to pursue his art. Will he and Ellie decide to risk everything and escape to the West too? Will Kurt ever become a real artist? Finally, will Kurt ever discover that his father-in-law had his aunt put to death?
Written and directed by the same fellow who did THE LIVES OF OTHERS, the great anti-communist masterpiece, NEVER LOOK AWAY is a pretty long movie, at about three hours, but it’s always compelling and often quite moving. The new movie clearly shows that there were many similarities between the totalitarian tyranny of Hitler’s Nazi Party and the communist regime in East Germany and the Soviet Union. It also shows that, eventually, Kurt rejects both the socialist “realism” of the fascist-minded Nazis and that of the Soviet communists, as well as the meaningless decadence of much of modern art. Instead, he finds a middle way to represent the beauty of realistic truth while also expressing himself in a manner that’s satisfying, appealing and meaningful.
That said, NEVER LOOK AWAY has several graphic bedroom scenes in it and more than a few scenes of explicit nudity. This is a movie for adults only. Extreme caution is advised. Please see our CONTENT section for more details.
NEVER LOOK AWAY is a German drama about a young man who grows up in Nazi Germany, then becomes a mural painter in East Germany after World War II. Unknown to the man, named Kurt, he’s married the daughter of the Nazi doctor who sent his beloved mentally ill aunt to the gas chambers. Before they marry, her father lies about her medical history and convinces them she needs to abort her first child. Kurt becomes a successful mural painter for the communists, but chafes under the oppression. Will Kurt and his wife decide to risk everything and escape to the West? Will Kurt become a real artist? Will Kurt ever discover his father-in-law had his aunt put to death?
NEVER LOOK AWAY is long, at about three hours, but it’s always compelling and quite moving. It has a strong moral, anti-socialist worldview that’s very insightful. It promotes truth and beauty in art. That said, NEVER LOOK AWAY has several bedroom scenes and more than a few scenes of explicit nudity. This is a movie for adults only. Extreme caution is advised.