The Debt, starring Helen Mirren, is the sort of film that explores the animal side of our human nature and it reminds us that when we are pressed up against our ability to handle the truth we are likely to be faced with life or death situations. And so how many of us are prepared for that?
The story is that of a trio of Israeli war heroes who face the prospect of their world collapsing as the possibility of an ugly truth coming to light thirty years after the fact. Of the three, only the woman can rectify the problem. It's a very intriguing concept, and brilliantly handled by the film but the greatness of this story comes out in the terse dialogs between the three, but especially the woman, and the Nazi war criminal who is at the center of their heroic mission.
There is, in this tale, the story of how much we become defined not so much by our aims, but our ability to accept that which it makes us in the process, whether we succeed or fail. The heroes must struggle through the taunts of their captive as they decide whether he should be tortured, killed or brought to trial. As they stuggle with that ethical matter of the way in which they will embody the spirit of their new nation, as agents / soldiers of that nation, they must sublimate their own personal desires and lives. They become tools of their ambitions, and ambitions are always thwarted, and so it leaves them with what? Desparate confusion.
In The Debt's magnificent scene, the Nazi illustrates his contempt for Jews as he characterizes their behavior as sheeplike weakness. How is it, he asks, that the Jews were led to slaughter that so many were shephered into their deaths by so few? They were, he concludes, too weak and unpossessed of the pride and will to survive to do anything but submit to the superior force of will of the German soldiers.
I found this to be a riveting scene because from my perspective it distills the very essence of human survival. We may thrive in an absence of conflict as we uniquely social creatures do. But we are so easily pressed into enforcing the courage of our convictions as a matter of principle and as a matter of survival, and all of our institutions fail and our social graces crumble away. We must do what we must do, and for the sake of keeping a promise or fufilling a mission, that predicament most always demands that someone must pay with their life.
We go through our lives planning to fill them with purpose and meaning. In the end, it may be all we have and our only purpose, is to cause the deaths of others and try to give that meaning.