Is it a good thing or a bad thing that after spending almost two and a half hours watching In Darkness, I felt as if I had just spent fourteen months living in the sewers under Lvov, Poland, just like the Jews in the film, who were hiding from the Germans during WWII? It certainly points to the effective way sewer life was filmed: the claustrophobic feel, the darkness, the echoing sounds of squealing rats, the darkness. Did I mention the darkness? It also helps that above ground, the world is not much brighter. Throughout the ordeal faced by these eleven Jews, the world above is depicted as a colourless, cold, dangerous and violent place. Only when the Russians “liberate” Lvov does colour return.
In Darkness, directed by Agnieszka Holland, is based on a true story, of course, which adds the necessary gravitas to the experience of watching these very real and flawed individuals suffer. And the actors playing the Jews are more than up to the task of conveying the horror of their situation. It’s almost beyond comprehension that people could survive such an ordeal. And yet, as real as it felt, the story of the Jews does not make the film stand out in any way. Fortunately, In Darkness is not so much the story of the Jews and their plight as it is the story of the Polish man who keeps them alive. In Darkness is really his story.
Robert Wieckiewicz plays Socha, a man whose job it is to maintain the sewers. He seizes an opportunity to make some serious cash by offering to help the Jews (providing food and making sure they remain hidden). But as he gets to know the Jews he is protecting, they become not only human but like an extended family - they are his Jews. This leads him to take ever greater risks on their behalf, including the risk of losing not only his closest friend but also his wife and daughter. The transition is not made easily and Wieckiewicz does an incredible job of expressing all the complex emotions of his tortuous personal journey.
In Darkness takes great pains to make sure everyone understands that Jesus was a Jew, as if making a profound revelation: Jesus - a Jew? Never! I suppose it is a sad thing that Christians could ever forget such an obvious fact. The film also flags up Matthew 25’s “And all the people said, His blood shall be on us and our children,” as a key foundation for two millennia of anti-semitism. Far too little attention is paid to why Matthew is the only gospel writer who makes such a bizarre statement. I will leave it at that for now.
In Darkness does not compare favourably to a film like Schindler’s List, but the story of Socha lifts what would have been a standard *** film just into the ***+ range. My mug is up.