via activa

“Via Activa—The Spirit of Hannah Arendt”


Amos Lassen

A couple of months ago I reviewed this film yet I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Hannah Arendt has always been one of my philosophical heroes and I have been wondering how she would react to this film biography of her life. Arendt was

“an anti-nationalist but briefly Zionist, essentially German but defiantly Jewish, intellectually rigorous and romantically passionate”. The film attempts to capture the many contradictions of a woman who was one of the great thinkers of the 20th century’s great minds.

When we meet her here, she is reading correspondence between Karl Jaspers and herself as we see Germans being captured after the war. It is in these letters that we see some of Her Contradictions, complexities and idiosyncrasies. She never denied her Jewish background and heritage yet she had a love affair with the notoriously anti-Semitic philosopher Martin Heidegger. In the film, Arendt at times looks like little more than a housewife but this changes once we hear her speak.

Arendt here is always portrayed sympathetically even during the section on “Eichmann in Jerusalem” in which she coined the phrase, “the banality of evil”. It was with this that she sparked a tremendous and angry debate in the American Jewish community.

I find it extremely interesting that today Arendt is once again at the top and that many who wrote her off in the 60s have moved toward her way of thinking. The real treat of the film is getting to see and hear Arendt speaking about what she had to say and as well as some fantastic pre-war and post-war German footage and while some of it is chilling, we get a chance to think about what happened once again.

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