In deftly incorporated historical footage, we see the nondescript Eichmann's testimony, in which he basically said that he was just following orders and thus couldn't be considered guilty of the crimes with which he had been charged. In describing Eichmann, Arendt hit upon the phrase "the banality of evil."
By now it has become a familiar idea, but at the time, with the Holocaust just a few years in the past, it was incendiary. Arendt seemed to suggest that the Nazi evil was not of an absolute, unique kind but instead something that might be carried out by any obedient functionary--by any of us, really. Arendt lost close friends, the New Yorker was deluged with angry mail, and there were calls for her dismissal from her academic posts. The film's climactic scenes consist of a lecture in which she defends herself against her detractors.
Hannah Arendt is a film about ideas and about a woman sitting at her desk, writing--both tall orders for a filmmaker. But when the film, in a mixture of English and German, had its local premiere at last spring's Cinetopia film festival, showings in the main theater at the Michigan were almost packed, and it drew strong crowds at the Detroit Institute of Arts in September. Its monologue climax had the Michigan Theater crowd applauding. Hannah Arendt returns to the Michigan on November 2 and 3.
[Originally published in November, 2013.]