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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