It’s a melancholy truth that religion is often a key ingredient in long-standing conflicts festering in certain troubled regions around the globe: the Middle East, Northern Ireland, the Balkans. Final Solution depicts the way religion has been involved in the racial strife in South Africa — but it also points to the role that faith can and should play in reconciliation and healing as well.
From Christian production house Messenger Films, this well-done drama tells a true story of hatred, persecution, and redemption on the eve of Nelson Mandela’s historic election to the South African presidency. Foreshadowing on a local scale the later work of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an integrated prayer service becomes the setting for an impromptu truth-and-reconciliation session when a vicious Afrikaner terrorist stumbles into the church crying sanctuary from the angry black vigilante mob who have already horrifically executed one of his fellow terrorists.
Stories about oppression and persecution usually focus either on the victims, and their plight or their heroism, or else on the victimizers and their moral decisions, whether good or bad. Thus, for example, The Pianist was principally about the plight of one Jew, while Schindler’s List centered on the redemption of one German.
What makes Final Solution different is that it’s fundamentally about a third thing: reconciliation. We do see the plight of the repressed black population and the redemption of one of the oppressors — as well as terrible acts of violence perpetrated by individuals on both sides. But the film is really about breaking the cycle of hatred and retaliation.
It’s another melancholy truth that Christian-produced message films are almost invariably preachy, one-sided, simplistic, and/or badly made, often all of the above. First-time writer-director Cristóbal Krusen avoids these pitfalls with notable restraint, aided by solid performances from well-known South African actors, authentic shooting locations, and attention to historical detail.
In fact, Final Solution is easily one of the best films to date from a Christian production company. Krusen cites To Kill a Mockingbird and Chariots of Fire as the kind of films he’d like to make; Final Solution isn’t in that league, but it deserves a spot on the shelf next to Romero (Paulist Films).
Krusen’s film tells the true story of a reformed white supremacist named Gerrit Wolfaardt (Jan Ellis), whom we see indoctrinated from youth in the belief that God’s election had passed from the Jewish people to the white settlers who claimed South Africa as their promised land, and that the black Africans were without souls and cursed by God.
Like many zealots who later undergo a radical conversion, Gerrit outdoes his peers in bigotry and racism. Taking Hitler’s Mein Kampf as his bible, Gerrit joins with a couple of local toughs in assaulting black residents, but his ultimate vision goes far beyond random violence: He proposes nothing less than a holocaust of black Africans, the Nazi "final solution" applied to die Swart Gevaar ("the black danger").
Gerrit’s ambition and conviction soon bring him to the attention of like-minded men in the white apartheid establishment. It soon becomes clear that Gerrit isn’t the first Afrikaner to conceive this plan: A cabal of military, government, and civilian conspirators are secretly working to fan the flames of intertribal as well as racial tension, inciting acts of civil violence that will give the white government even more room to crack down on blacks.
Gerrit becomes an advocate of genocide in part by reading a book, Mein Kampf. Interestingly, his subsequent transformation begins in part with another book: Alan Paton’s poetic, powerful novel Cry, The Beloved Country, for years banned in South Africa, which Gerrit initially dismisses as "Communist propaganda" though he hasn’t even read it.
There are also two other factors instrumental in Gerrit’s conversion that are more common in such stories: a pretty girl (Liezel van der Merwe), and the Bible, or rather a concordance, to which a helpful librarian directs him when he finally sets out to verify which is really the teaching of God’s word — that blacks have no souls, or that "out of one blood God made all nations" (Acts 17:26). As one who has personally had life-changing experiences while paging through a concordance, I have a special appreciation for this scene.
But Final Solution isn’t ultimately about Gerrit’s conversion. Conversion is all well and good, but the film hasn’t forgotten Gerrit’s victims, the targets of his random assaults. Nor have they forgotten him. Gerrit may have found peace with God, but it isn’t all about him — a point the film drives home at just the right moment. (An odd, presumably accidental biblical resonance occurs when an angry young black man with the common name of Moses confronts Gerrit, whose name sounds more or less like "Herod.")
The film’s use of violence is direct and uncompromising, and
includes a depiction of the brutal practice of "necklacing," in
which the victim’s arms are pinned by a car tire while he is
doused in fuel and burned to death. This moment, among others,
earned the film its R rating, though the similar violence has
been permitted in big-budget
Final Solution isn’t without weaknesses. The flashback narrative structure is somewhat stiff and limiting, and the dialogue isn’t without clunky moments. (Following a night of terrible bloodshed, as an angry mob comes looking for vengeance against a white terrorist, someone takes away the terrorist’s gun and hands it to a third character, saying, "Put this away before someone really gets hurt.")
There are also nice touches, such as the moments of understated comic relief provided by Gerrit’s partners in crime, and the pathetic attempts of the white terrorist in the integrated church to appeal to religion to persuade the parishioners not to turn him over to the mob.
Ultimately, Final Solution suggests that the only true "final solution" to strife and violence is the way of repentance and forgiveness, and cannot be achieved without grace. Without underplaying the obstacles or understating the difficulties, the film holds out hope that change and healing is possible. It’s an earnest, sincere film, well made and with a message well worth hearing, and it deserves to be seen.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.