Monday, July 20, 2009


I don't know what it is about World War II, but it interests people. It sells. Yes, I saw another movie about WWII, Defiance, except it took on a new spin that I haven't seen before in WWII movies. Instead of showing the war from the soldier's perspective or the concentration camp victim's perspective, it took the perspective of Jews who escaped the ghetto and were trying to survive in the woods.

Defiance is about a group of four brothers, the Bielskis, who survived in the woods for years during WWII. They took on hundreds and hundreds of Jewish refugees from ghettos, built communities in the woods, and scraped by in order to survive. What shocked me was how this was a true story. Obviously, some details are fabricated in order to make this movie a selling blockbuster.

Spoiler--what ends up happening is that they eventually do survive and make it out of the war. They save about 1,200 people in the end. They keep moving and making new camps when they are discovered, they fight back only when they have to using their ammunition, and they take and steal goods when they need it in order to survive (food, medicine). They participate in weddings and church services, games and jobs. It was really quite interesting how much they could turn a forest into a liveable community.

No spoiler anymore--As I was watching it, I was wondering how much of it was actually true. They fought a lot of battles against the Nazis that they strangley survived, they had enough supplies from the woods for them to survive for years, and they dodged the Nazis every chance they could get, even escaping air raids.

I couldn't imagine living in such horrible living conditions, when you are hunted out of your house, and then you are hunted out of the woods. Survival is a minimum. You watch your friends and family die. You are hated because of your religion and how you look. If I was them, I couldn't ever imagine the world turning around to how it is today. It's a miracle that we were ever able to overcome such a tragedy as WWII.

I don't know how much is true in terms of the brothers and their commitment over the years. Zus, one of the brothers, eventually is fed up and joins the Soviet Army because he doesn't want to sit around and wait. Since his family is killed, he wants revenge. I liked the duality of him and his older brother, the leader, played by Daniel Craig. Zus represents one rational side of the brain that says, "We can't survive here. These people are using us to survive. We need to fight. We can't support all these people. Rations will eventually run out. Take only those we can support." The other side of the brain, played by Daniel Craig, says, "We can't be animals like the Nazis. We need to take in everyone we can so that the most people that can can survive. We turn no one down. Everybody helps in the community, and we make it prosper in any way we can." If one was faced with this situation, in this leader aspect, I'm sure both arguments would come up in your mind. But, which side do you honestly do in order to secure the survival of those you love?

The movie was mixed with some depressing parts and some happier parts. Death, disease, and fighting were a constant--which is probably pretty accurate. Sometimes the action or plot was a bit dramatic, and I questioned its authenticity. But, no one really knows. They have a book to base it on, from the survivors, but I guess the movie is as close as it can be.

Defiance received mixed reviews, especially since some critics thought that it wasn't accurate. In response, the writer of the screenplay suggested, "The Bielskis weren’t saints. They were flawed heroes, which is what makes them so real and so fascinating. They faced any number of difficult moral dilemmas that the movie seeks to dramatise: Does one have to become a monster to fight monsters? Does one have to sacrifice his humanity to save humanity?" Good questions.

Critics thought that this movie made it look easy to survive in the woods as the Bielskis had. Why hadn't other Jews done this too? Survival must have been difficult, so the difficulty of the whole situation was misrepresented (as argued by critics). We all have our own opinions, but I'm just showing a few others.

It was a bit draining at times, but I would still recommend the movie, especially to those who are interested in WWII and history. It adds another layer to WWII films, so it might be a good movie to consider watching.

What do you think of Defiance?

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