By Eleanor Ringel Cater
In Agnieska Holland’s new movie, “In Darkness,” the director takes us back to the Holocaust and another implausible yet certifiably true story. 1990’s “Europa, Europa,” was about a Jewish boy who hides his religion and ends up a “hero” of the Nazi Youth.
“In Darkness” focuses on a completely different sort of hero: a stolid Polish sewer worker named Leopold Socha (played with great subtly and craft by Robert Wieckiewicz).
When the Nazis goose-step into the town of Lvov, it’s pretty much business as usual for Hitler’s Master Race. Chase some naked Jewish women into the woods and kill em. Load up some respectable Jewish families and smoke em at Auschwitz. Or just see someone Jewish on the street and it’s like shooting ducks in a barrel.
Because they offer to pay him, Socha agrees to hide about a dozen or so Jews. Anne Frank’s attic is like the Taj Mahal compared to the filth and stench these refugees suffer. But at least they’re alive.
Socha is a good-enough man, but he’s not the sort to risk his wife and daughter for a few extra bucks. At the same time, he feels no human connection whatsoever to these people whom he refers to as “cowardly Yids” and the like. To him, they’re barely different from the other vermin who roam his odd domain. He’s interested in a business deal, not being a hero.
But as time goes on, much like a certain Herr Schindler who started out purely as a businessman, these Jews become his Jews. Socha’s Jews. He even risks his own life to protect them.
Thus the title has an almost ironic meaning. Not only are the Jews huddled in darkness for 14 months, but Socha moves from darkness to light. He has greatness thrust upon him, so to speak
We barely get to know the Jews. Two are children. One is very religious. One carries most of the financial burden. Another sleeps around. Yet another risks his life to find out the fate of one of the group who fled above ground. Sometimes they’re nice to each other. Sometimes not.
Socha’s journey is the one that matters. And “In Darkness” matters because it survives as a chronicle of and testament to an ordinary man who found, within himself, something extraordinary.