Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No Good Deed

I watched The Pianist yesterday. I finally understand why Polanski was so widely lauded for his film. The Pianist is haunting in its barefaced and undisguised telling of a survivor's story. The main character is not a hero. Jewish Wladyslaw Szpilman did not join the arms of his fellow Jews in the tragically valiant uprising against the Germans. He lucked out. He escaped, he hid, he ran, and most of all, he survived. The Pianist is therefore not romanticized; in fact, it is almost dispassionate. It is a story of one man's incredible ability to survive. It does not try to justify, and the portrayal of the discrimination and treatment of Jews is not overtly shocking or overly gruesome, and perhaps made more powerful in its subtlety. For example, there is no scene which shows the deaths caused by the gas chambers. Like in Amen where Gerstein's expressions are used to convey the horror of the gassings, in The Pianist, conversation is used.

Another moment in the film is when the German officer walks down the rows of Jews shooting them in their heads. When he comes to the last shivering and trembling old man, the gun runs out of bullets. That precise moment where he clicks the gun and it is empty is tremendous. Zoom in on the Jewish man's face. White in terror, but also, perhaps, a hint of hope? Then slowly, without increasing the pace of the music or movement, the German reloads his gun, and then shoots him. Its a brilliant cinematic feat. Awful, horrible, and so, so tragic it makes you so mixed up.

I'm supposed to be de-numbing myself from the effects of History Exams. I wrote this during the period of intensive studying.

"The fact that I can say 20-50 million people died during the Great Leap Forward without blinking an eye.

The fact that when I read that out of the 29 million Russians that died during the Second World War, 20 million were peasants, all I think about is what a great argument that will make.

The fact that when I say, in 1932, about 7 million Ukrainians died of starvation, the first thing that crosses my mind is that it is half of the total death toll of 14.5 million.

The fact that I don’t say “In cold blood, Stalin murdered and killed more than 1 million innocent people” and say instead- “To maintain power, Stalin used terror to eliminate his political opponents”.

The fact that when I see “Hitler murdered 11 million Jews”, I think- Hitler murdered about 5.7 million Jews, not 11 million. The rest were non-Jews.

The fact that they have become numbers to me- statistics, arguments.

The fact that I need to be de-numbed, and soon."

To be honest I cannot be sure watching The Pianist and war movies will help any. But at any rate, I think it makes me think. It makes me remember the dead, the sacrifices, and at the least, it reminds me of both the depths human morality can sink to, as well as the good we are capable of during most trying situations. 

On this thread of morality, Wicked is throughly thought provoking in that sense. It's marvelous how just one song can capture the dilemma that I face, the internal struggles that sometimes plague me. Why do I do good, really? Stephen Lawrence Schwartz is a genius. Hearing Menzel sing makes my hair stand on end. She can seriously hold a note for, forever. When she screams/sings FIYERO, I just can't. All the emotion makes me want to burst. 

"One question haunts and hurts, 
too much, too much to mention,
Was I really seeking good, or just seeking attention?

Is that all good deeds are, when looked at with ice cold eye
If thats all good deeds are, then maybe 
thats the reason why

No good deed goes unpunished."
- No Good Deed. Idina Menzel.

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