In Darkness is the Oscar-nominated film based upon the true story of Leopold Socha. Socha, a Polish sewer worker who during WW2, hid a group of Jews for 14 months in the sewers beneath the Nazi-occupied city, Lwow -now known as Lviv -in Ukraine. However, Socha didn’t do this out of the kindness of his heart.
Agnieszka Holland’s, In Darkness, first introduces us to Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), as he ransacks a Jewish home with his work colleague and friend, Stefek (Krzysztof Skonieczny). Their robbery is interrupted by a Polish girl and a German soldier, looking for somewhere to fornicate. After a scuffle, Socha and Stefek flee the house with their loot, but as they escape they witness a group of women, naked and running for their lives, as they’re pursued by the Nazi occupiers. Socha may not witness their brutal executions, but he hears the women’s screams and the machine fire which silences them. Socha despises the Third Reich but he chooses to look the other way, unless of course, he has something to gain, financially.
Shortly after we see Socha and Stefek, in the sewers where they work, hiding their loot. They’re arguing about when to sell their swag. Socha instructs Stefek that now is not a good time because all the jewellery might as well be worthless. This indicates that his crimes are not out of necessity, but opportunism and greed. But nowhere is Socha’s opportunistic greed illustrated clearer, than when he accidentally discovers the group of Jews, attempting to escape into the sewers beneath, Lwow. Socha doesn’t aid the Jewish group because it’s the right thing to do, he does it because he can make more money by helping them, as opposed to collecting the one-off Nazi reward.
Socha then, is hardly the stuff of great moral fibre, but little by little, ‘surprising’ characteristics are revealed, which show the opportunist thief in a slightly more flattering light. He may be a robber, but he is at least a loyal one. Something explained by his Ukrainian comrade, Bortnik (Michal Zurawski). So while the film begins defying the typical protagonist path, soon enough, Socha falls in line with the reluctant hero, as Socha’s regard for the preservation of human life, is slowly revealed.
The script, which was originally written by David Shamoon, was intended to be in the English language, but upon the director’s insistence, the film was shot in Polish, German, Hebrew and Ukrainian. Holland defended this decision because she wanted to illustrate the characters’ European-ness. Holland also wanted to show that the persecuted minorities, were often only united because of their mutual hatred of the Nazis; which is echoed in Socha’s repeated “Yid” remarks, to one of the Jewish men he helps, Mundek (Benno FÃ¼rmann).
In many ways, In Darkness defies convention, but with its upbeat ending, it isn’t long until one or two clichÃ©s appear; from classical music playing while a brutal murder is carried out, the suspicious friend and his allegiance to the enemy, and of course, our heroes eventual transformation from exploitative thief, to saviour.
One area where the film stands head and shoulders above the majority of its contemporaries, is in its depiction of the Jewish ‘victims’. They’re often unlikeable, one even commits a heinous crime and when they’re not arguing or doing drugs, they quite frequently pass the time masturbating or copulating, and most often while the others are watching (just as do we). This is an unusual approach in a film of this nature and it adds an element often unseen in war films ie carnal pleasures.
In Darkness is a gruelling watch, but a rewarding one. Some may choose to write it off as a mere Schindler’s List clone, but to do so would be foolish. The story is very similar, but unlike Spielberg’s film, for all the clichÃ©s In Darkness embraces, it rejects twice as many.