Breinersdorfer: Sophie Scholl

Breinersdorfer, Fred, Ed. Sophie Scholl ~ Die letzten Tage (Das Buch zum Film). Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2005.

One positive thing can be said for this book: Fred Breinersdorfer had the courage to publish his uncensored screenplay. And his historical consultant Ulrich Chaussy did a great job of researching "place" for the movie.

But the kudos essentially stop there.

Fred Breinersdorfer obviously wanted to make a movie that was unlike the pabulum filmed by Michael Verhoeven in the 1980s. He had the perfect opportunity to get it right. And yet he could not resist the temptation to fall back on legend when he needed a sentimental moment or two in his movie.

He also did not permit the characters to be who they truly were. That utter nobility in the courtroom, Sophie’s uncommon courage? All true. But that courage was merely one part of a whole.

By limiting the viewers’ knowledge of what really transpired during the interrogations, Breinersdorfer may have solidified the notion of Sophie Scholl as martyr, but he did nothing to help us comprehend what made a young woman sacrifice her life for idealistic notions of liberty and justice. If the White Rose story is to make any sense, if it is to remain relevant well into the 21st century, we must paint integral portraits of these students and their mentors, “warts and all.” There are no warts in Breinersdorfer’s sentimental screenplay.

Breinersdorfer also did a great injustice to the White Rose “group” as a whole. He rewrote Christoph Probst as a simpering, uncertain boy whose first and only thought was his children, a heroic coward who constantly looked to Hans Scholl for affirmation. Yes, Christoph loved his wife and children with every fiber of his being. But as his wife said after the war, there were two Christls: One who loved his children, and one who loved his country so much he could not keep silent. That second Christl never surfaces in Breinersdorfer’s world.

Indeed, the concept of this movie is flawed from the get-go. There are more than enough Scholl-centric tellings of the White Rose legend. We badly need a balanced version, and this isn’t it. Breinersdorfer surely would defend himself by stating that the White Rose was not the focus of this movie, that Sophie Scholl was.

The larger - unanswered - question remains: Why should that be the case? Sophie Scholl was not the White Rose. For that matter, Hans and Sophie Scholl were not the White Rose, except in Inge Scholl’s postwar attempts to eradicate her own Nazi past and reap Marshall Fund and McCloy rewards on the basis of her siblings’ heroism.

That sounds cynical, but it is true. Nowhere in all the Scholl literature does Inge Scholl face up to the anti-Semitism and Nazi racial ideology she taught in her role as Ringführerin (responsible for education) in Ulm. She pretended it never happened, and hid behind the skirts of her noble brother and sister. In so doing, she created a White Rose mythology that in no way reflects reality.

It’s nonsensical for a screenwriter of Fred Breinersdorfer’s stature to buy into Scholl legend. He squandered a perfectly good opportunity to right historical wrongs, to expand the focus of the camera away from Hans and Sophie Scholl. Instead of widening the lens, he narrowed it down to Sophie Scholl - at the expense of everyone else.

If her story were more compelling than the others contained in the Bundesarchiv, I could perhaps be supportive of his decision to tell Sophie’s story. But her life was hardly the most compelling in the group. As much as I “like” Sophie (and she assuredly had more moral backbone and passion than her brother), I would rather see Alex Schmorell’s story, or Willi Graf’s, or even the very private Christoph Probst’s life portrayed on the silver screen. Or Traute Lafrenz’s!

Sadly, we’re still waiting for a good White Rose movie. Verhoeven invented scenes out of whole cloth, apparently based on Inge Scholl's 'word' alone, and now Breinersdorfer comes along and repeats some of those inventions as if they were true.

What makes this a “sad” occasion? For one all-too-brief moment in a scene that is cut and pasted into the wrong time and place, we see that Breinersdorfer has the ability to capture the voices of these students (and possibly their mentors, if he exerted himself). He “got” their friendship, the easygoing nature of the camaraderie they enjoyed and how that affected their resistance.

If only he had told that story…

Now that you've read this review, if you'd like to read more in-depth critique of the movie, click here.

(c) 2005 Ruth Hanna Sachs. All rights reserved. Please contact Exclamation! Publishers for permission to quote.