Son of Saul ★★★★★

Ratings are always arbitrary, but this is an instance where any rating would feel untrue. Is five stars enough?

Son of Saul is the perfect Holocaust film. It communicates, with more integrity than I've ever seen put to screen, the feeling of utter despair. Not horror. Not sadness. Not even senseless death. War films have those in spades. The terrible truth revealed by Auschwitz isn't that man could kill his neighbor, but that he could erode his neighbor's personhood.

This is a movie about how it feels to no longer be a person. It's a claustrophobic, exhausting nightmare. The camera clings to Saul like a sort of Birdman in hell; we're relentlessly shoved, dragged, abused, disoriented, marched through atrocities we're barely even permitted to see. Nearly everything is obstructed and out-of-focus. It physically hurts. We aren't only denied hope, we're denied any clarity in grief: the world is too blurry to make out Benigni's smiling resilience, too deafening to hear Spielberg's mournful strings. Some films tug at heartstrings. This one severs them.

So what sense is there in reliving a senseless loss? Do I know something I didn't know beforehand? Do I feel some truth more deeply? I'm still wrestling there. At best I can say it left a new heaviness in me, a weight that anchors me to my neighbor's suffering. And that I'm convinced these weights are worth collecting, draining though they may be. Son of Saul is raw. It's striking. It's perfect. It's true. It needs to be experienced, and I never want to experience it again.

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