Too often Christians treat real moral dilemma as if decisions are always neat and easy to arrive at in one’s conscience. Such is not the case in real life. This reality is underscored powerfully by The Ninth Day (2004), a gripping true story that takes film-making to the highest and most dramatic moral levels. German director Volker Schlöndorff has taken the diary of Father Henri Kremer (a fictitious pen name) and turned his story into an amazing film account of a priest imprisoned in the infamous Dackau camp during World War II. While the priest clings to life, in all its fragility, his faith fades under real pressure and imminent death. But a Gestapo officer by the name of Gerhardt, a young and ruthless lapsed Catholic seminarian, arranges for a nine-day release in order to persuade Henri to convince his anti-Nazi Bishop to support the Nazi occupation by a more lenient approach. If Henri can succeed both he and his family will be free and united again.
Part of the compelling story-line here is that the Gestapo officer did his thesis on the theology of Judas while in seminary. This plays a major role in the movie as he argues that Judas is not a bad man but rather a major player in Christian redemption. Without Judas no one could be saved he tells Henri. He also argues for the future of a new and reformed Christianity that will be linked to German views of the state and the Jew. The way he argues for the Jesus being a Jew, and yet the first Christian, is quite foolish but indicative of arguments made by other racists over the centuries.
The moral dilemma portrayed here is real and the story underscores it with poignancy and a powerful psychological and moral debate that runs throughout. If Henri fails in his assigned task he will return to Dachau, where he is likely to die himself, and others will surely die along with him. He is torn between duty, love for his own Catholic Church, personal faith in Christ, and fear for his own future. He is even more torn by the implications this all has for his family. In nine days Kremer must come up with a way to ease his conscience and protect his family while he also upholds his vows to the Church. (He has how own doubts about the papacy and its early approach to the Nazi’s and to the rise of Hitler.)
Henri’s story, and his part in the resistance against the Nazi’s, is true. We know this because the priest survived the death camp and his work was later published. Thus the story told by The Ninth Day is quite real. The drama here is very tight, the story works well, and the film is wonderfully produced. It is in German, with English subtitles, which in this case gives it the feel of real authenticity. This is a powerful picture that should be viewed by Christians and by all who believe in conscience and moral rectitude. I have seen a lot of Holocaust films and until last week did not even know this one existed. It easily makes my top ten list of Holocaust films now. (The Ninth Day is not rated but it is way too intense for young children who could not follow the story line anyway. Teens and adults should see it. Groups could discuss it easily enough and be profited immensely by the process.)