Defy-ing the Odds

Bonnie Godas

Throughout history, the survival of mankind has been challenged both individually and as a group with injustices that have enveloped entire cultures or races, where lives have been ruined and lost for no reason at all. The atrocities are too numerous to mention and sadly enough some have been forgotten, but not this one.

Defiance, written by Nechama Tec and beautifully directed by Edward Zwick, known for such epic movies as Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai, is a film that tells the true story of the Bielski brothers during the most terrifying and horrific periods in recent history, the Holocaust. Taking place in 1941, it shows how three brothers created a safe haven for thousands of Jews by escaping from the Nazi occupied Poland and hiding in the Belarussian forest, an area that borders Lithuania, Russia, and Poland.

Edward Zwick has taken us into a world of World War II where the Nazis primary target were the Jews of which six million were killed by the end of the war. Although films of this nature have often been graphic and explicitly violent, Zwick shows the endurance and spirit of the human condition; the focus of this film is more suggestive and leaves the audience with their own interpretation and imagination.

Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski does a phenomenal and believable job as the older brother who, along with his others brothers Zus played by Liev Schreiber, Asiel played by Jamie Bell, and young Aron played by George MacKay, lose their mother and father to the Nazis and decide to take refuge in the forest to hide, plan a way to escape, and also seek revenge for the wrong that is being done to them and their family. Soon they realize they had company as other Jews came to hide in the forest as well. Eventually, there were hundreds that resulted in a community of young and old in which the main purpose was to survive this horrible ordeal. But a leader was needed who had strength and courage, and Tuvia Bielski was chosen because of his bravery and warrior like qualities with a true determination to protect and avenge the rights of his people.

The story continues with these people all cohabitating and surviving under the worst conditions. But the determination was never lost as they formed a “camp” that required everyone to work for their keep. Here you meet some wonderful characters like the elder teacher, the intellectual, the young girl Chaya and the notorious SS scout, perfectly played by Markus von Lingen. In order to get ammunition, often they would go outside the camp and find themselves in the midsts of the Nazis that were determined to hunt them down. During the day they would barter with local farmers and bring food back. Everything they did was a risk. But the determination of living kept them going and everyday was a blessing to be alive.

Defiance has a multitude of feelings and Zwick has an amazing way of making the audience feel every emotion possible. One minute you are laughing, then crying, feeling angry, then hopeful. It’s a masterpiece of cinema. The cinematography and special photographical effects created by Eduardo Serra is rich and believable but hinting at the surreal.

But it is surreal. To be in such conditions and know that your life could be over in seconds is unthinkable. But these people did it. Twelve hundred people survived this journey and many had lost their lives. The courage and hope that these brothers gave to these people and their help in rebuilding their lives is a miracle in and of itself.