This film is an overview of philosopher Hannah Arendt’s life and work during her later years, with special attention to her most controversial piece of writing, an article on the Nazi war crimes trials and ‘the banality of evil’ as she came to call it. Arendt’s intelligence and strong personality are brought across very clearly by Barbara Sukowa, who plays Arendt. Janet McTeer is also wonderful as Arendt’s friend, writer Mary McCarthy.
Philosophy must be an incredibly difficult thing to translate into film, so I give the filmmakers credit for bringing across Hannah Arendt’s thinking, and that of her opponents, so clearly. If the film has a flaw, it is that too much time is spent on Arendt’s personal life, rather than on her ideas and her work.
I think more life could have been put into the fascinating subject of evil and Arendt’s rationale, but it was a good effort. Original video, such as of Eichmann during his trial, was used extremely well, and helped give us insight into what Arendt saw that led her to her controversial conclusions.
Images of the infamous Nazi war criminal revealed as a man focused mainly on paperwork, fussing endlessly over bureaucratic details and defending his actions as those of a loyal civil servant, put her essay into context. It seemed as if the script writers felt obligated to offer her opponents equal time, at the expense of letting Arendt explain herself better.
She is seen to defend her views clearly only once, during a presentation to students, and I find this a flaw in a movie which is supposed to be about Arendt rather than her critics. The movie is still worth seeing. At the very least, it is a good introduction to her most disputed work, and to ways of viewing the subject of evil itself.