The holiday season is finally over and classes will be starting up soon, but as a gift to myself I preordered a copy of my all time favorite movie which incidentally just came out last fall and was released on DVD earlier this month. I was so shocked by how much I loved the movie that I went through a mini-identity crisis for a week asking everybody I knew what their favorite movie was and why.
The movie is a British film and I had seen the trailer for it on Youtube. It was one of the trailers that popped up before the actual video I wanted to see so my first reaction was to roll my eyes and think, “Great. Here’s another movie I’m never going to see,” but the trailer turned out to be different. It was a “behind the scenes” trailer where they had clips of the actual woman the film was based on talking about the film and the actors talking about making the film and I realized I recognized most of the cast. My dad has a weird thing about actors that I’ve kind of picked up on; he won’t recognize any big name folks, but he’ll recognize all the “character actors”, he calls them. He says it comes from being a cop. He’ll recognize one of the background characters and list off other movies they’ve appeared in. He says the best actors are character actors because they can play any role.So I knew as soon as I saw these^ folks, I just HAD to see the film even if it meant driving all the way across town. Fortunately my brother had seen the same trailer so we went and saw the movie together. The name of the film is Denial (2016).
The story is about Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt (portrayed by Weisz), a Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta and author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. Dr. Lipstadt comes under fire when she is sued by the well known David Irving, a British “Hitler historian” and well known Holocaust denier, for libel when her book describes him as a “Hitler partisan” who “…distorted evidence, manipulated documents, and misrepresented data to reach historically untenable conclusions”. However, in the British legal system at the time the burden of proof fell on the defense (unlike in the U.S. legal system) so it was up to Dr. Lipstadt and her legal team to prove that Irving was indeed a Holocaust denier.
(Rachel Weisz and Dr. Lipstadt)
I liked the film because it’s a court room drama (meaning the screen writer had to pour over four weeks worth of court transcripts, YIKES!) and it’s structurally different from what a classic Hollywood film would be. I like that it’s different from what I’m used to. Instead of the protagonist rising up, becoming stronger and more articulate we already have a strong, articulate female protagonist finding the strength to step back and letting teamwork prevail. As part of the defense strategy her legal team had ordered that there would be no witness testimony and that Dr. Lipstadt would not do any interviews or take the stand. For Dr. Lipstadt’s character staying silent was the hardest thing she ever had to do, but it was an act of “self denial” (which I think is the actual meaning behind the title) for the greater good and winning the case. It’s exactly a “how-to” guide when it comes to facing prejudice, but it brings up some really good points.
There’s also a lot of subtle blink-and-you-miss-it references to important things going on at the time, but the point is this case was a BIG win for historians and freedom of speech in the U.K. I like the movie’s point that we’re living in what the film calls a “post-fact society” where politicians or public figures can say whatever they want, even blatantly LIE, and then when they get called out on distorting the truth they shrug it off as “well, it’s just my opinion.”
The message of the movie for me is that while everyone has the right to their own opinion, not all opinions are equal. For three weeks my coworker was buying into flat-earth theory. In his opinion, the earth was flat. I believe the earth is round. In fact I love watching the live stream from the NASA ISS space station. My “opinion” is based on fact. My coworker’s is not. I don’t believe that this is the greatest film every made, however, like any good story it doesn’t just tell us that deniers exist, but that they can be beaten.
The film is based off of Dr. Lipstadt’s book, History on Trial: My day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (which I’m currently reading) if anyone is looking for more information about the case or information that isn’t apparent in the film.