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New Film About Hannah Arendt Explores Controversy Surrounding Her “Banality of Evil” Theory (VIDEO)

January 11, 2013 1:59 pm 7 comments

Photo taken during the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Photo: wiki commons.

A new biopic on Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt was officially released in Germany this week. The film is receiving rave reviews.

The film revolves around Arendt’s coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 during which she developed her theory on the “banality of evil.”

Arendt, a philosopher who had a close relationship with German philosopher–and late staunch Nazi advocate Martin Heidegger–before World War 2, was covering the trail for the New Yorker. Like the majority of observers at the trial, she expected Eichmann to be a monster, the manifestation of human evil. Instead, she discovered a bureaucrat – a pen-pushing murderer, whose banality surprised her.

In refusing to demonize Eichmann, many people felt that Arendt was trivializing his heinous crimes. She answered her critics as a philosopher, a thinker, as she had been all her life. Her position was highly controversial. Even old friends and followers distanced themselves from her.

It’s exactly this controversy around which the biopic, entitled “Hannah Arendt,” is focused.

The director of the film, Margarethe von Trotta initially shied away from making it: “How can one describe a philosopher?” Deutsche Welle quotes her as saying. But through further research, the director was swayed. She added: “When such an idea is thrown into your brain, it’s not easy to escape.”

Von Trotta also felt a personal connection to the very Jewish theme of transience. “For a long time I was stateless and I was born in Berlin; for years I only had a foreign passport,” she said. The director only acquired a German passport after her first marriage.

She associates Hannah Arendt with “the ability to live wherever one is blown to, because one is not so attached to one’s own country.” But she also recognizes a contradiction: “I don’t feel like I belong, but I want to understand.”

Watch a trailer for the film below:


  • Felix Goldstein

    More than anything else, I was interested to understand who was the audience, who are the people who gem packed the cinema hall, to watch this film, in Vienna.
    Probably they were all pleased to get it over with any heavy consciousness feelings, if these feeling were there to begin with.

    No surprise about what she wrote.

  • It seems to me that the commenters have missed the point of Arendt’s observations, and indeed misunderstand the nature of the actual lives of the most evil of individuals. They are frequently just like the rest of us. They have boring personal lives, unglamorous hobbies, common bad habits, and limited ranges of imagination. They are, in a word, banal individuals leading banal lives. Their evil comes not from any observable dramatic manifestation of their persona, but merely from their internal inability to recognize and restrain the immorality of some of their routine actions. This is in fact the reason that the “banal’ description applies so well to their overall persona. Except for their dedication to killing, they are individuals who are as dull as everyone else. Even murderous psychopaths are more unique, less “banal”.

  • With all due respect to memory of Hannah Arendt, there is nothing banal about Adolph Eichmann or anything or anyone having to do with the Third Reich during the Shoah. Here was a man making it his life’s work at the time to do away with the Jews of Europe. Imagine! Banality? Doing away with an entire religious, cultural, national population dispersed throughout an entire continent in the middle of the twentieth century? Imagine! Banality? Planning meticulously how to accomplish the age-old wish of millions of non-Jews for four millennia to actually and finally exterminate the Jewish people. Imagine! Banality? Knowing, understanding, accepting, encouraging, working feverishly to commit the grandest scandal in human record: genocide of every Jewish man, women, and child. No, no, no! This man Adolph Eichmann did not execute a banal act of evil. On the contrary, this man Adolph Eichmann perpetrated, along with his colleagues of the Wannsee Conference, of January 20, 1942, the most real of all nightmares any group of human being could conjure in real time! Banal, NO! Extraordinarily grotesque, actual and empirical, YES! There is not any surprise that the film is receiving rave reviews in Germany, where the Shoah, the Final Solution, was conceived and initially executed. The germ for the Holocaust is still germinating in its native fatherland in the Neo-Nazi Movement, where as many as between 10,000-25,000 adherents live.

    • Thank you for your comment but she did not ever say that the Holocaust was banal. Her main idea is that Eichmann, “a nobody,” a man who just obeyed orders, is like countless others. Not a monster but someone who follows ordrers, who is “normal.” Kind of like the “good Americans” who don’t lose sleep about their drone attacks on “terrorsist” which kill mostly civilians, like Obama, sitting in his office with his “kill lists.”

    • Felix Goldstein

      I perfectly agree with you. Not only that. But the film does not hint to the extraordinary action to get Eichmann to Israel, (the protagonists in the film even condemn that very action of the Mossad), then it does not develop any arguments as to WHY did Eichmann go into hiding in the first place, and why did he have to be abducted (covered by Argentina and Vatican). The list of so called self hatred jews is long, Judith Buttler is one of them too, I had the honor to participate in Berlin to one of her lectures – mediocre and fanatic – and all I am saying is that such manifestations only play in the hands of those who want to minimalise, in this case to overcome their feeling of… I wouldn’t say “guilt” but their uncomfortable feeling altogether. The movie has, however, nice images of Jerusalem, and does not fall into any cliche.

  • She came up with a phrase to let justify her lust for a Nazi…It is way overdue for her to be exposed..

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