So World War II. It’s been told from every conceivable angle in movies. Resistance fighters, Holocaust survivors, people left at home, German, American, and Japanese troops all have had their time in the spot light for easily a million or more movies. So why do people keep making World War II movies? Why is this time period so insanely interesting to screenwriters, directors and movie viewers? Maybe my answer to these questions is in a movie I watched from 2006 directed by Paul Verhoeven named Black Book.
Black Book is about a young Dutch Jewish woman. She is hiding in some farmer’s house when the Nazis find out and blow it up. She is saved just in time by a man and is sheltered by him in a greenhouse. A man posing as a Resistance fighter comes to the greenhouse and offers to get her out if she brings a lot of money. She meets her family at a boat destined to go to a safe zone. Everyone gets gunned down, except for her. She hooks up with the Dutch resistance and goes on a mission to seduce a high ranking Nazi officer. Before she goes on her mission, she sleeps with one of the fellow workers who is also a doctor. She begins this affair with the Nazi officer but ends up falling in love with him. Through a series of events they try to break out a bunch of Resistance fighters only to be gunned down again. The Resistance Fighters suspect the woman to have betrayed her, but really she is sitting in a cell waiting to be executed. At the last moment her SS officer lover rescues her and they live on a house boat waiting for the end of the war. Just when you thought everything was going to be okay, the woman is put through even more torture of finding out who the real mole was, seeing gruesome death and eventually getting a big vat full of poop dumped on her naked body.
This movie is unrelenting. There is constantly someone getting killed, having sex or double crossing someone that was dear to them. I barely had time to fully catch my breath which is exhilarating but at the same time tiring. If you know anything about the director of this movie, then you probably know that he isn’t going to ever let up. Paul Verhoeven is extremely interesting for his riffs on genre and his social commentary. But he lacks the pathos that someone like Quentin Tarantino brings to a picture that was similar in tone, Inglorious Basterds. Everything seemed just a little too heightened and fake. But then again maybe that was Mr. Verhoeven’s intention.
As for the questions I asked above, I think both this movie and Inglorious Basterds (which I assume everyone has watched) are great examples of why we still hold on to World War II and mine it for cinema gold. World War II was filled with epic feats and the enemies were clear. If you were a Jew then you have to hate the Nazis because they are torturing both you and your people. If you were a Nazi then you have to hate the Jews because of Aryan supremacy bullshit. The wars we fight now are smaller in American (and therefore the world, am I right? That was sarcasm, just in case no one noticed.) eyes and have an unclear enemy. Is the Taliban really a political group or are those just scared people not wanting Americans to take over their way of life? Are they truly evil? In World War II days you can say that without a doubt your particular enemy is evil because of x y and z reasons. So it gives us an easy dramatic structure to work off and riff on just like Verhoeven did here. There is no way that much stuff happened to one woman over the course of the war. But in Verhoeven’s world, we must see her torture go a little too far. We must understand the cartoonishness of these types of films and ask ourselves why we like to watch Jews getting tortured and Nazis being evil sons of bitches. We must realize that everything wasn’t black and white like it is in the movies.