When the Germans occupying Poland round up the Jews into the ghettos, a Polish sewer inspector decides to help hide some of them from the Germans, for a price.
What Would I Do?
WW2, The Nazis, The Holocaust, and hiding Jews. In some ways these events are more than simply the events themselves. They are the modern mythological settings for many of our ethical and moral cautionary tales, heroic sacrifices, and modern what-if-ing.
There aren’t many modern Americans who haven’t asked themselves what they would have done during the Nazi Regime. Growing up, I heard stories about people hiding Jews as one of the noblest things a person could do.
For all of the many films I have seen over the years, which focus on this period, I have never quite seen this view. The Polock worker who saves a few Jews, at first for profit, then for the right reasons. “In Darkness” feels a little like “Schindler’s List” but if Oscar Schindler hadn’t been rich. What if he was a poor plumber?
I find this viewpoint far more similar to my own so while I may think “Schindler’s List” is a wonderful film for other reasons, when it comes to my own personal involvement and relatability, “In Darkness” has it beat.
“In Darkness” focuses on Leopold Socha who, as a way of earning some extra cash, saves some Jews from the liquidation of the ghettos and hides them in the sewers where only he can find them. Where the film succeeds so well is in the depiction of this hiding. It isn’t the German patrols that are going to get the refugees caught. It is the infighting, the unsure plumber’s assistant, the affair one of the Jews is having with another, and the wife of Socha who thinks he’s taking too much of a risk. These relationships are where the tension lies.
At first I was uncomfortable with the depiction of Jews in the film. May of the stereotypes that have been employed against them are in full effect in this film. They crawl the sewers like rats, seem to have little regard for Socha’s risk in helping them, and there are a couple of them who would tempt even the most saintly among us with frustration at the very least. In a way you sympathize with Socha as he complains when they try to pay him less, then add more people to the deal. He only has so much space. He has to cut off the count somewhere. The depiction of the family seems slanted because it is. They are shown from his point of view, which is flawed and stretched.
You also understand the panic of the Jewish family as they slowly come to realize what waits for them if they go above the sewer lines. It’s a simply horrific situation that stretches everyone to the limits of what they can endure as a human being and that aspect of the film never lets up.
The world needs more films about tragedy which are styled like this one. “In Darkness” doesn’t shy away from the horrors of WW2 but also doesn’t revel in it. What it revels in is the hope that morning comes. Eventually the Germans leave. The Jews come out of the sewers and the family enjoys a meal with the man who saved their lives, all of them thankful and grateful.
I’m not talking about false hope in some Deus Ex Machina. I’m talking about real hope that knows that goodness is there in the human heart and we are all capable of rising and lifting together. With so many reasons to look at the world and despair, a little hope goes a long way.
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