The Right Thing

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Julia Jentsch, Gerald Alexander Held, Fabian Hinrichs, and Johanna Gastdorf star in a film written by Fred Breinersdorfer and directed by Marc Rothemund.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

I once attended a talk by a Count von Stauffenberg on the German Resistance to Hitler. Perfectly groomed and in an elegant suit, the Count sat on the edge of the table and smoked Turkish cigarettes with an ebony holder. Insofar as “resistance” was not an ironic term, he assumed that it meant the July 20 conspiracy when his second cousin, Claus Schenck von Stauffenberg, attempted to blow up Hitler — that is, the only real resistance to the Nazis arose from his class. He made no mention of the White Rose Society, nor of its martyred heroine, Sophie Scholl, whose fate is the subject of this extraordinary film by Fred Breinersdorfer and Marc Rothemund.

The White Rose Society was a movement founded in Munich by university students. (How the earth is always trying to establish a balance! Munich gave Hitler his first big putsch.) The White Rose didn’t assassinate people or blow up buildings: “We fight only with words,” said Sophie (Julia Jentsch). Nevertheless, the White Rose leadership was charged with treason and all guillotined. The film covers only the last five days of Sophie’s life, between when she and her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs) are arrested for distributing leaflets at school and her execution, with her brother and their brother-in-law, Christoph Probst (Florian Stetter).

Sophie Scholl is a masterpiece, I think. We will probably never get a better evocation of what it feels like to live under a totalitarian irrationality, and to try to do something about it. It belongs with Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall and Michael Verhoeven’s The White Rose as a stellar attempt to redeem Germany’s honor (“After such knowledge, what forgiveness?” asked one character). The film is harrowing, but not unbearable — as Sophie herself is heroic but not self-righteous or sickly sweet. As they were rushing along balustrades and up and down stairs, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread, knowing how it would all turn out. We could use some of that heroism now.

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