Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Defiance

posted by Nell Minow
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for violence and language
Profanity:Very strong language including racial epithets
Nudity/Sex:Sexual references and situations including adultery and sexual pressure
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking
Violence/Scariness:Disturbing war-time and Holocaust-related violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues:A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date:January 16, 2009
DVD Release Date:June 2, 2009

Cowriter-director Edward Zwick, who also made “Glory,” the story of an all-black Union regiment in the Civil War, spoke to me about why it was important to tell the story of the Bielski brothers, who kept 1200 Jews hidden from the Russians and the Nazis during WWII.

There is a perverse irony in commemoration of the dead in the Holocaust with little attention to the survivors and the resistance, especially the Jewish resistance. Its immensity can’t be underestimated and it is a story that needs to be told. We all know these iconic images of Jews in the Holocaust and those are important but we have come to accept them as the only images and that needs revision.

This is not the story of Jews trying to stay alive in concentration camps. This is the story of Jews who were lucky enough to have the chance to fight back. Tuvia Bielski does not just have a gun — he is played by James Bond himself, Daniel Craig.

When the Bielski parents are killed by the Nazis, the three brothers hide out in the woods. In addition to Tuvia there is Zus (Liev Schreiber) and the youngest, Asael (Jamie Bell of “Billy Elliot”). Over time, other escapees ask for their protection and they are faced with the wrenching choice between turning away those who are old or ill or putting the entire group at risk by taking on people who were not strong enough to help them or quick enough to keep out of sight. They have to make other choices, too. The Russian army will give them some minimal protection but only if they will join forces and devote their energy to fighting the Nazis, just just hiding from them. Zus joins them but Tuvia stays on to take care of the people who are not capable of fighting.

The natural world of the forest is for the escapees a sort of Arden where many things are turned upside down. Back in the village, social status depended on class, profession, education, devotion to religious study and ritual. The Bielskis had none of these. In the forest, status depends on the ability to survive in the forest, including the ability to find a balance between asking and telling everyone what to do. Tuvia falls somewhere between achieving greatness and having it thrust upon him. He never wanted to be a leader; he certainly never wanted everyone to depend on him. And most of all, he never wanted to make the tragic choices he must make, to have to find out that he is a person capable of killing and of moral compromise.



  • Alicia

    “Defiance” is on my list (after I see “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Last Chance Harvey.”
    BTW, Nell, I hope you will see and review “Gran Torino.” I saw the film yesterday. The language is politically incorrect, and there is quite a bit of violence, but I think this is one of Clint Eastwood’s best films, even though he didn’t write it. And his performance is top-notch, as are the performances of the two young actors who play his Hmong neighbors. I think this is going to be one of those underrated films that becomes a minor classic.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Alicia! I loved “Gran Torino” and hope to post a review. Though you’ve pretty much said everything I would plan to say!

  • Alicia

    Thanks, Nell. I adore Clint Eastwood – I can’t believe how much charm he has and he’s in amazing shape for a man nearing 80. This film reminded me a bit of “Unforgiven” but not as talky or as preachy, which is a good thing. He’s one of the greats!
    I’d love to read your review if you have time to do one.

  • jestrfyl

    “Defiance” is an amazing movie. It deals with so many issues so well that I was absolutely stunned by how well the complexity was handles in the story. The language is indeed “adult” and the amount of vodka consumed was astounding (it semed more important than food). The winter scenes reminded my of why I now live in Florida – but the scenery was amazing nonetheless. I commend this film highly, but especially to anyone who knows only the victimization of the Jews. There is profoundly human heroism in this film without making anyone into a superhero (the major characters do have to deal with the moral implications of the choices they make – including killing people). It is as much a part of the “apocalyptic road trip” films as it is from the WW2 genre. And my favorites are the “Intellectuals” their relationship and transformation was one of the best parts of the story.

  • Jake

    The Bielski brothers were not “lucky” enough to fight back. They made a choice to fight rather than die like sheep. Why do people attribute luck to brave choices?

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks for the comment, Jake. I meant no disrespect to the courage and integrity of the Bielskis as I am sure you meant none to those who did not get the chance to hide in the forest. None of those who died in the Holocaust or in any other genocide should be described as not having chosen to fight or compared to sheep.

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