Sunday, October 3, 2010

Robert Jay Lifton: Nazi Doctors

Directors Hannes Karnick and Wolfgang Richter seem to have taken the concept of the banality of evil too far, applying the stalest of documentary filmmaking techniques, the talking-head interview, to their “Robert Jay Lifton: Nazi Doctors,” in which the psychiatrist and Harvard lecturer Robert Jay Lifton gives us the Cliff's Notes version of his 1986 book “The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide” from the safety of his book-filled study. Lifton, who himself interviewed dozens of doctors that worked at Auschwitz, is an easygoing and engaging academic, and someone whose university course probably wouldn't put you to sleep. But, then, college classes don't have an 86-minute running time.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

1 comment:

Matt Davis said...

Lauren, I reached your blog having read the famous paper from a 1988 lecture from Ivan Illich, "The Educational In The Light Of The Gospel".

Ivan Illich is famous for his trenchant criticism of the institutionalized school system.

I don't want to be rude, but the conclusion to your Slate magazine article *IS PRECISELY WHY ROBERT JAY LIFTON* is so compelling to many who study, not just the holocaust, but the entire theme of divorcing science and technology from man.

Consider the Chicago school system where blacks and hispanic youths dodge terrorists in lockerrooms, dope dealers, crabby and even sadistic counsellors, like in some of the USA films.

The point Illich tries to make - and that which Robert Jay Lifton makes - is really not all that extraordinary as it may seem, which is why half of Chicago is made up of schoolchildren who really don't see a future beyond that circumscribed by a centralised state system that they have no power over, using science and technology to get ahead.

OK as Illich says, there's Armenia and Hiroshima and that's a bit different from half of Chicago's youth failing to graduate from high school and facing problems of life and death similar to a third world society, but the sense of alienation from science and technology is much the same.

I haven't seen the Lifton film, so maybe it did go over the top as your more informed comments mention. But Illich's commentary:

Is remarkable because it sheds a different perspective on that film, way out in 1988. And it's a perspective that is when you think of it a sort of sub-genre of many US Films I have seen in the past 20 years, set in classrooms and generally celebrating harsh teachers dealing with nasty little gangsters in much the same way as Nazi German films celebrated the system.