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The Commitments April 24, 2007

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Ethics, Film.

No, not the band. This is for Netflix addicts. I watched an interesting film called Downfall, a dramatization of Hitler’s bunker during his final days, as remembered by his personal secretary. The usual suspects, Goebbels, Himmler, Speer, etc. make appearances along with their wives and children, and a variety of ordinary Germans caught up in the madness. The film humanizes these monsters but there is much to be learned from it.

The film graphically portrays the danger of the idea of total commitment, promoted sometimes by existentialists, especially Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard advanced the idea that freedom and genuine subjectivity are possible only with total, passionate commitment. In Downfall, although most of the characters are wholehearted Nazis, and the realm of the ethical is not much in evidence, a few of the characters in the film seem genuinely in control of their lives and are capable of a modicum of moral insight. These few held apparently something of themselves in reserve, and did not wholly define themselves in terms of National Socialism and the aims of the Reich. They were believers with few moral qualms but maintained the sense that they were independent selves, not consumed by loyalty or dedication. Perhaps holding something in reserve is necessary for moral insight.



1. Nina Rosenstand - April 28, 2007

Interesting point! I agree that Existentialism, along with other Continental philosophies, is curiously naiive as to the nature of that recommended total commitment. In addition, without having seen “Downfall” I assume it also might illustrate the perils of assuming that ethic is primarily a matter of emotions—a theory that is on the rise these days, with data coming in from neuroscientists corroborating that our moral deliberations do, in fact, have emotional components. But that doesn’t mean these emotional components shouldn’t be tempered by reason. Great subject.

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