Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
A number of big names—Dame Judi Dench, Keira Knightley, Charlize Theron, and Reese Witherspoon—were Academy Award nominees for Best Actress in 2005. And Witherspoon, the winner for her role in Walk the Line, certainly deserved high honors. But could it be that voters overlooked a performance that's even more riveting, memorable, and inspiring than any of these?
You may think so when you see Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. In this German-made movie, Julia Jentsch plays the role of a valiant 21-year-old hero who stood up against the Nazis, and who boldly proclaimed her faith in Jesus Christ even as she denounced Hitler as a liar. Watch her stand strong against the relentless, ferocious challenges of Nazi interrogator Robert Mohr, played with similar intensity by Alexander Held.
If the real Sophie Scholl was anything like the character played by Jentsch here—and the extensive research performed by director Mark Rothemund and screenwriter Fred Breinersdorfer indicates that she was—then she deserves a place alongside history's most revered and celebrated Christian women. We haven't seen a comparable clash between a principled heroine and a determined, malevolent villain since Agent Clarice Starling matched wits with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. But where Starling and Lecter only met in a few fleeting scenes, this battle of the minds goes on and on, until you're breathless with the heat of it.
Working from records of Scholl's interrogation and incarceration that had long been unavailable, Rothemund and Breinersdorfer give us a fast-moving, feverish account of six days, a span of time in which the determined young woman goes from a covert freedom-fighter to a prisoner. In the opening scenes, she's an enthusiastic, appealing student with an irrepressible zeal for the truth. She helps her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs) and a covert operation called "The White Rose" produce and distribute pamphlets that describe how the Third Reich caused the massacre at Stalingrad and forced Jews into concentration camps.
But when she's arrested, after a nerve-wracking covert operation at the nearby university, the true tests of her character begin. The virtue and verve that Scholl demonstrated, first in deceiving her interrogators, and later in endeavoring to save her friends and family from execution, will amaze you, just as the real Sophie Scholl inspired Germans. Today, more than a hundred German schools are named after her, and Jentsch's portrayal of Scholl may just inspire more brave young souls to pursue their own quests of justice and truth against all odds.
Scholl stands out on the big screen for several reasons:
First, she's not made up to be glamorous. Hollywood often gives audiences short cuts to feeling sympathy for "the good guys" by casting super-appealing, beautiful figures in the role. Jentsch's portrayal of Scholl lets her strength come from her argument, not her sex appeal.