More Than Survival and Adaptation
The Counterfeiters really isn’t a movie like Braveheart, but it is a movie about courage—and, I believe, about life and surviving.
The movie is set in
Early in Sorowitsch’s imprisonment, he is transferred to another prison so that the Nazis can utilize his expertise as a counterfeiter. The prison is run by the man who arrested him, and was since promoted to this position. The cell block the counterfeiters occupy is like a country club for those who are willing to cooperate with the Nazi regime and make counterfeit pounds and dollars to help with the German war effort. The new commandant (Friedrich Herzog) is a businessman more concerned with promotion and comfort than he is with the Nazi war machine, but he needs that machine for his comfort. He also knows he needs Sorowitsch’s expertise and treats him well. Sorowitsch agrees to work with Herzog as long as he can get him medicine to help his ailing friend’s tuberculosis. Herzog complies, only to have the ailing friend later killed because of the chance that TB could spread to the entire camp—which would kill off his plans to further the Nazi efforts, and get him in good with Hitler.
In spite of the fact that death is all around Sorowitsch, he continues to do his work in order to survive—and to help his fellow workers survive. The movie reveals Sorowitsch’s slow redemption from a self-centered egotist to a man that is truly concerned about the people around him. He begins to take the blame for mistakes of others, knowing that the commandant needs him, and would not kill him as he would with the others.
This slow metamorphosis is often confronted by the morally upstanding Adolph Burger, who was imprisoned for protesting the Nazi regime. His wife was also imprisoned and killed—and he refuses to be part of the Nazi war effort, sabotaging the work they are doing on the American dollar. This causes great tension between Burger, Sorowitsch, and the rest of the inmates; but Sorowitsch consistently protects Burger from both the Germans and his own people in spite of the fact that he vehemently disagrees with Burger as to what is best for their people.
This leads to many interesting questions about what our lives are for, and what constitutes survival. Burger is an advocate of force and change, while Sorowitsch is a representation of the status quo trying to survive in a world of confusion. His world is defeated, and change appeares impossible. The only hope is to survive in the midst of the horror. Burger’s view, though, is summed up in his conversation with Sorowitsch when he says, “No one is willing to die for principle; that’s why the Nazi system works!”
Both men have a similar goal. Both men desire to help their fellow men. Both have vastly different methods that clash and cause tension. This is not unlike many of us trying to survive in a world that doesn’t make sense, and feeling hopeless to change it. Do we act out in rage and violence or do we acquiesce and live within it? Or is there another way?
Whatever the solution, this movie does a remarkable job of displaying the human condition. Every character in this movie is tainted. Even the moral Burger struggles to strike a balance in this movie.
This movie is about surviving and adaptation—interestingly, two elements found in
As Braveheart’s William Wallace reminds us, “Every man dies; not every man really lives.” Life is more than existence, and human life is more than the will to survive and adapt. But those are much needed aspects when life has meaning.
In the end, the remaining prisoners are released as the Allies defeat Germany, and Sorowitsch is last seen recklessly gambling thousands of counterfeit dollars—a symbolic throwing away of blood money, which represents his guilt for his complicity in the furthering of the Nazi war machine.
The last scene sees Sorowitsch sitting on a beach in
Survive he did, with a memory that he will take to his grave. What would you do to survive? What would you compromise for comfort?
The Counterfeiters is rated R for “some strong violence, brief sexuality/nudity and language.” This movie would not be appropriate for children. The adult content is a realistic picture of the horror of the human heart when it is left to its own.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Mike attended a press screening of The Counterfeiters.