The story’s a modern classic, and for Agnieszka Holland’s “In Darkness” that is exactly the problem.
The film dramatizes Leopold Socha’s (Robert Wieckiewicz) experience protecting a group of Jewish refugees in the Nazi-occupied Polish city of Lvov.
Socha is the classic anti-hero. A sewer worker, Socha agrees to help hide a group of Jews that have fled the ghetto during a raid.
Being paid daily for his efforts, Socha feeds and hides the Jewish families in the complex sewer system below the city. As the lies, efforts and risks become more complex, Socha must attempt to save both “his Jews” and his family from the Gestapo threat.
The film begins at a sprint, opening almost immediately with the ghetto’s inhabitants tunneling their way out of their ghetto apartment, and into the sewer.
The film draws attention to not only the crowded conditions of the ghetto and the secrecy and frantic nature of escape, but also to the horrifically dirty and dismal way refugees were forced to live in order to escape. Refreshingly, the film also highlights the Socha’s average, working class existence and uses the duality of the sewer and life above to fuel the film.
Thankfully, too, the film does not attempt to baby the audience with the background of Nazi-occupied Poland or the establishment of the Jewish ghettos. But, despite having its background already set up, the film still front-loads its characters, and it becomes impossible to build any sort of solid relationship with them on screen.
For the first half of the film, the viewer must juggle about 20 new characters, until they get left behind because Socha believes he “can only save 10.” But even after the core cast emerges from the group, it’s difficult to start a relationship with a character halfway through a movie.
And those who got left behind? They’re never addressed again, nor does anyone in the film feel a sense of loss or guilt for abandoning their friends and neighbors.
Simply, there is too much, too soon and it’s this lack of pacing that affects the latter part of the movie. Without these foundations, feeling for the characters and their plight goes right out the window.
Classics are classics for a reason. There is something in them that is eternal, that can continually evoke something from its audience, but “In Darkness” relies too much on what the viewer already feels and knows about the Nazi-occupation and doesn’t take the time to build up from that or set itself apart from its predecessors.
Ultimately, “In Darkness” is unfulfilling. It relies too much on the viewer’s preconceived notions toward the Holocaust and the effect is not awe, but guilt — for not feeling invested given these expectations. It comes down to a matter of missed opportunities.Contact Lauren Schlottman.