In Darkness is based on the true story of survival chronicled in the novel, In the Sewers of Lvov, by Robert Marshall. Faced with the threat of being slaughtered or moved to the concentration camps, a large group of Jews seek refuge in the dank sewers of Lvov, Poland. Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckeiwicz), a sewer inspector and petty thief, runs across the Jews in the sewer and agrees to help them survive for a price.
Turning them in at that time would be a much more profitable choice. However, Socha decides to do the right thing and protect the Jews while charging for his services. This side-business quickly loses its profitability as food prices soar and the Jews' money stash runs dry. The risk Socha faces by helping the Jewish refugees quickly becomes life-threatening to himself, his family, and his friends.
Director Agnieszka Holland presents a very frank and brutal look at Jewish ghettos and concentration camps during World War II. The movie contains gory murders, but never glamorizes or over-dramatizes any of these scenes. Where other movies might switch to slow-motion or crank up the dramatic music, In Darkness just presents these atrocities as matter of fact. The effect is surreal. You can almost vicariously sense the weight of hopelessness felt by the prisoners as the German soldiers held absolute disregard their lives. The group of 11 Jews desperately endures the unimaginable filth of living in the sewers for 14 months. I've watched countless movies and documentaries on the Holocaust--Ieven took a class in college devoted to the subject. Yet through the entire movie I still had to constantly remind myself that this story actually happened. It's simply unconscionable.
Robert Wieckiewicz's portrayal of Leopold Socha is nothing short of phenomenal. It's not a powerful or heroic performance, but it's not supposed to be. Socha is a struggling commoner who agonizes over the choice of what's profitable, what's safe, and what's right. Even with his entire world crumbling around him and his family's livelihood threatened, he eventually risks everything to save "his Jews." Socha didn't instantly come around to being one of only 6,000 Poles honored by Israel as "The Righteous Among The Nations." His motivations slowly evolved from arunning an opportunistic side-hobby to championing a righteous cause--more than once he nearly chooses the easier, safer path of turning in the Jews to the authorities. Wieckiewicz pulls off this transformation and maintains Socha's likeability throughout the entire story.
In Darkness' cast is enormous. The story is a bit unfocused at times and it's easy to lose track of the characters. This movie is a challenge to fully absorb with one sitting--probably even for native Polish speakers. The story bounces fleetingly between side story threads such as secondary characters committing adultery or losing their siblings in the sewers. While each of these side stories are compelling in their own right, the characters involved are not fleshed out, which diminished the intended impact of the storylines. More than once I confused different characters and didn't realize it until much later. Still, I appreciate the ambition that this film exhibited by highlighting that the Jews in this story didn't just suffer in the sewers for 14 months, but were still living life and fully capable of love, laughter, learning, and compassion.
Along with Holocaust films such as Schindler's List and the BBC version of Diary of Anne Frank, In Darkness should be required viewing for every high school age kid in the nation. Holocaust education is necessary to remind us that normal people can easily become radicalized into cold murderers of innocent men, women, and children. The stories are horrific, but it's vital that we never forget. The DVD
Audio: The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital with Polish as the main language. The subtitles are clear and easy to read. The surrounds are expertly implemented to immerse viewers in the dank rat infested sewers.
Video: The video is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. As inferred by the title and subject matter, this movie is dark, but not as dark as you'd expect. Holland sacrificed realism of absolute darkness for some ambient lighting in the sewers. You still sense the damp darkness of the sewers, but the blacks aren't as tangible as you'd expect from the sewers. The image of the DVD is soft with a subdued color palate. The image is gray, cold, and bleak.
Extras: In Darkness packs two featurettes. The first, "An Evening with Agnieszka Holland," is a 29 minute English interview with the director. The second, "In Light," features Holland interviewing Krystyna Chiger one of the real life survivors of this true story. Chiger is the little girl in the sewers, also featured on the DVD cover. What's absolutely amazing is that Holland didn't know Chiger was still alive until after she filmed this movie. This interview is a fascinating discussion about Chiger's survival tale that, alone, is easily worth the price of the DVD itself.
Theatrical trailers also included.
Bottom Line:In Darkness is one of the better ones out there. It's not the artistic achievement that Schindler's List was, but it doesn't try to be either. In Darkness unflinchingly presents the atrocities that Jews faced as they were herded into ghettos and then systematically slaughtered or worked to death in concentration camps. This miraculous story is somber and inspiring all at once. Highly Recommended.