The capture and trial of Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the major masterminds behind the Holocaust, is not a story that everyone would feel comfortable putting on the big screen. Films that portray the Holocaust can be difficult to produce because they can often capture sensitive moments in ways that may misrepresent or overdramatize the events.

While it can be daunting for directors to tackle such material, reaching back through history and relaying these stories in a visual and narrative way reopens conversations about the events’ importance. The film’s director, Chris Weitz, raises intriguing questions by telling the story of Eichmann’s capture in a moving, yet deeply disturbing manner. 

“Operation Finale,” which was released in theaters on August 29, 2018, recounts the strategy of Israeli Mossad intelligence agent Peter Malkin, played by Oscar Isaac, and the rest of his team members to capture Adolf Eichmann, played by Ben Kingsley. The group travels to Argentina – where Eichmann had been hiding since the end of World War II – and carries out a secret plot to capture and bring Eichmann to Israel to stand trial.

What makes “Operation Finale” such a troubling watch is that it brings a strong human component to Eichmann. The atrocities of the Holocaust seem like they were born out of some distant evil, but the sad truth is that Adolf Eichmann was still very much human. Due to a number of complications, the members of Malkin’s team are not able to depart right away for Israel, so they are forced to take turns caring for Eichmann while they hold him hostage, handcuffed in a bedroom. During Malkin’s shifts, he has to engage in very intimate routines with Eichmann, including feeding him, brushing his teeth and taking him to the bathroom. These processes force Malkin to see him in a more humane light, and he develops rapport with Eichmann – an understanding based around the common toils of the human heart. 

As they begin to share pieces of their lives with one another, Eichmann opens up to Malkin and expresses the love he has for his family and how all he wants is the best life for his son. Familial affection is a very tangible feeling, and the fact that Eichmann has the capacity in this film to cultivate these relatable emotions is frightening to witness.

At first, these humanizing moments disquieted me because it felt like the film was working to make viewers sympathize with Eichmann. But then I realized that my discomfort was the film’s greatest feat. If Eichmann had been portrayed as some unfeeling beast, the audience would not have to make the connection between evil and an individual’s choice to perpetuate or fight it. 

This realization will creep up on viewers after the fact as they ask themselves how they were unwittingly roped into sympathizing with a Nazi. Whatever the case, Weitz evokes sympathy for Eichmann with ease, as if he is pulling some kind of emotional joke on us – a joke that merits nervous laughter rather than full-throated chuckles.

“Operation Finale” also offers the possibility that hatred is hereditary. Before the mission unravels, the audience is shown the way Klaus admires his father and seeks his approval. Towards the end of the film, there is a brief clip of Klaus, played by Joe Alwyn, displaying the Nazi flag outside of his home after his father has been captured. The difficulty of eradicating hatred is emphasized through this chilling scene; even as Eichmann is brought to justice, his son continues to spread the Nazi ideology.   

“Operation Finale” uses a historical tragedy to recount Mossad’s great undertaking and illuminates how themes like unprecedented evil and hatred play into society today. In the age of superhero films where heroes and villains are unable to relate to one another, Mossad agent Malkin is faced with an adversary with whom he empathizes.

Olivia Simon is a senior in the SFS. “Director’s Cut” appears in print every other Friday.

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