Monday, February 23, 2009

7th Art: Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Stanley Kramer's "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961) is a profound study of the meaning of justice, due process, political irrationality, dehumanization, ethics and guilt. The cast is fabulous, with names such as Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy, and Marlene Dietrich, among other great actors. It begs the question: how is it possible that normally virtuous, sensible and caring people could become entranced by the evils of totalitarianism? What are the practical limits of consequentialism and deontology? The film explores these limits, layer upon layer, and it won't make you feel comfortable about the inevitable moral tradeoffs that they imply.

*SPOILER*: some of the most remarkable dialogues of the history of cinema happen in this movie. Here's an exchange between prisoner and Nazi judge Janning and American judge Haywood:
Janning [referring to the victims of the state, in great moral distress]: Judge Haywood... the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people... I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, you must believe it!

Haywood: Herr Janning, it "came to that" the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

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