In an attempt to contemplate the true nature of evil, we strive to analyze the horrors generated by the Nazis. Films about the Holocaust lend vast insight into what happened and, if done well, haunt our dreams. “In Darkness” is one such film — a must-see — although it may be the most difficult 145 minutes you’ve ever spent in a movie theater.
We’ve seen movies about Jews who hid from the Nazis in the woods (“Defiance”), attics (“The Diary of Anne Frank”), even latrines (“Schindler’s List”). But I was never aware of the fact that Jews hid in the sewers. Set in Lvov, Poland, “In Darkness” is the story of a small group of Holocaust survivors who endured the unthinkable for 14 months.
When Nazis liquidated the ghetto in 1943, sewer inspector Leopold Socha (Robert Weickiewicz) discovers Jews hiding in the Lvov sewer system. An anti-Semitic Catholic, Leopold agrees to help them for 500 zlotys a day, the price he would receive per head for handing them over to the Nazis. When “his Jews” run out of money, rather than turning them in as planned, Leopold has a change of heart. His evolving compassion for his hapless wards is the beauty that radiates within the dark cellars of this extraordinary film.
Celebrated Polish director Agnieszka Holland (“Europa, Europa”) chooses not to make her film about good vs. evil. All of her characters are flawed in one way or another. The Jews who Leopold harbors aren’t martyrs. At times, they’re selfish and unbearable. And, although Leopold becomes a hero in the end, his journey there is anything but altruistic. “In Darkness” is a film chock-full of gray areas.
The dramatic tension that plays out on screen is immensely intensified by the incredible cinematography. The dark, dank, rat-infested dungeons beneath the city are so vividly captured, it makes your skin crawl. To think that human beings actually lived — and survived — under these abominable conditions is mind-blowing. Cinematographer Jolanta Dylewska definitely deserves applause.
There are horrifying moments in the film that will indelibly etch themselves into your psyche. Naked women being shot in the forest, a Jew’s beard being torn from his face and a baby being suffocated by his mother are devastating to watch. In an interview with Holland, she asks, “Where was man during this crisis? Where was God?”
But “In Darkness” is also about being brave, acts of kindness and redemption. When you emerge from the theater, you will breathe a sigh of relief, having escaped the dark confines, and have hope for the human race.