Costa-Gavra’s “Amen. ” is a thought-provoking film that combines political thriller, suspense and expose. “Amen”, translated in Hebrew as “So be it”, deals with three significant characters, both real and fictional, who act out different moral or ethical principles. These characters, Father Riccardo Fontana, Kurt Gerstein and Pope Pius XII, provide the audience with different perspectives on the dilemma about the genocide of millions of Jews during World War II, commonly known as “the Holocaust”.
By reflecting on the lives, actions or personalities of these three characters, we would understand the ethical challenges, ethical principles and actions they have faced, considered and performed. Body Father Riccardo Fontana, played by Mathleu Kassovitz, is a junior diplomat and an idealistic Jesuit priest. Father Riccardo Fontana learned the life and sufferings of the Jews in the Nazi concentration camps (through the help of Kurt Gerstein). He also learned that the American government inquired about the genocide of Jews through a letter addressed at the Vatican.
He endeavoured or tried his best to alert the Vatican about the genocide of Jews in the Nazi concentration camps. He thought that his familial connections with the local priests and at the Vatican would bring in results or considerations from the Pope. He also thought that by directly stating the problems at the Nazi concentration camps to the Pope, he would be able to bring light to the problem and have the Pope do his part by making a public statement condemning the actions of the Nazis.
However, in the end, he was not able to have the support of the Vatican. He lost his life; Father Riccardo Fontana died a martyr. Father Riccardo Fontana is a fictional character in the movie; however, I believe that he symbolizes the early life of Pope Pius XII. As a morally righteous priest, I believe that he wanted to ease the pain or sufferings of the Jews. As a diplomat, I believe that he wanted to do things in a peaceful and legal manner. I also think Father Riccardo Fontana believes on deontological ethics.
Deontological ethics or deontology refers to the method of applying ethics by focusing on what actions are right or wrong, regardless whether the consequences would right or not. This ethical principle is sometimes referred to as “obligation” or “duty” ethics. These are the reasons why I believe, Father Riccardo Fontana tried his best to alert the Pope, make a difference or bring the Jews help from the Vatican even if it means to sacrificing his own life for the sake of duty. If I were Father Riccardo Fontana, I would also inform or alert the Vatican, particularly the Pope.
I would seek his assistance regarding the genocide of Jews and strongly emphasize my point that it is wrong and immoral. I would let them see that as priests, we should do our best to preserve life and peace all throughout the world, despite the differences in race or ethnicity. I would stand for the right of my fellow Jews, especially for their right to live. However, unlike Father Riccardo Fontana, I would seek or provide other kinds of help if all of the previous acts fail. I help the Jews by hiding them from the Nazis and I will ease their pain with my prayers.
Subsequently, I will continue my efforts to make the authorities do their part. I will not have myself killed, not for selfish reasons, but because I know that dying won’t solve anything. If I die, I would no longer be able to help the Jews or the needy. If I die, I won’t be able to strengthen their morale and keep their spirits and hopes high. On the other hand, Kurt Gerstein, played by Ulrich Tukur, is a real character or individual, greatly devoted to his duty as a soldier and religious beliefs as a Protestant. He is a German SS officer on board the Waffen-SS during the World War II.
He is also an intelligent scientist and member of the Institute for Hygiene who developed the gas Zyklon B for treating or curing the waters drank and used by Nazi soldiers. As a scientist, hygienist and developer of the Zyklon B, he only wanted to prevent illnesses or the spread of diseases among the Nazi troops. Unfortunately, Zyklon B was used to exterminate the Jews. Raised in a family of patriotic officers and soldiers with strong sense of responsibility, his obedience or compliance to authority cannot be doubted. However, after learning this horrible truth, his values as a Protestant dominated his sense of patriotism.
He alerted the Protestant leaders, then the authorities, Swedish diplomats and also the Roman Catholic Church about the immoral acts committed by his superiors. He took actions similar to what Father Riccardo Fontana did and just like the efforts of Father Riccardo Fontana, Gerstein’s efforts were in awe. Conversely, I am convinced that he believes the same ethical principles as Father Ricardo Fontana. If I were Kurt Gerstein, I would first try to reach a higher position in the Nazi party. I will do my best to reach that position as soon as possible because time is of the essence.
After having power or authority, I would instantly see to it that the officers under my authority would provide help to the Jews. I would do this secretly or behind the radar of my superiors so that I can still have my power and my life for the service of those who are suffering. With my power and my life, I will provide more help or make more things morally right. Pope Pius XII, the most controversial character in the movie, is subjected to allegations of preserving his selfish-needs, economic interests, ambition and power by doing nothing regardless of knowing the horrible truth at the Nazi concentration camps.
In this sense, allegedly, the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church in extension, committed passive sin. Somehow, watching the movie had made me scrutinize or contemplate on the faith and hope that I had for the Vatican or to the Pope. Putting myself in the shoes of Kurt Gerstein and Father Riccardo Fontana made me doubt that the religious authorities are not morally upright. However, considering the position of the Pope, I reclaimed my belief that he did not do anything wrong and that he only wanted greater good for a greater number of individuals or Jews in particular.
As a prominent and religious leader, every action should be seriously weighed and the interests of those who are in need or prosecuted should be considered in order to prevent further harm done to them. Alerting the international public would disrupt the allegiance of the Vatican and the Nazi party and spark more tension. If the allegiance is lost and the Nazis are angered by the public statement or expose of their immoral acts, will the Vatican be able to address the retaliation of the Nazis? How can the Vatican keep Jews, provide food and shelter in chapels if the angered Nazis destroyed the Catholic chapels?
Will the public statement improve the situation of the prosecuted Jews? Will it stop a possible war? I don’t think. This is due to the fact that the Nazi party has great military power at that time to retaliate to any threat or opposition. Public protests against this inhumane party would only increase prosecution, not only of Jews but also Roman Catholics; and that would be further agonizing. I think that as a religious leader, a morally upright Roman Catholic and diplomat, Pope Pius XII did actions behind the eye of the public to help the Jews.
I believe that Pope Pius XII believes in utilitarianism and because of this. Consequently, he suffered the pain of doing nothing because he knew that the consequences would be right or provide greater good. Conclusion Father Riccardo Fontana, Kurt Gerstein and Pope Pius XII are three interesting characters with varied perspectives when it comes to what is right or wrong. Father Riccardo Fontana and Kurt Gerstein believed in fulfilling their moral obligations while Pope Pius XII believed that “the end justifies the means”.
The first two characters believed in doing things now and in considering consequences later while the third character was thinking of the consequences first before making an action. Somehow, I believe that the Holocaust or the genocide of millions of Jews in Nazi concentration camps, considering these two opposite ethical principles, is a dilemma. It is a dilemma where I believe, Pope Pius XII did the best choice. Works Cited Costa-Gavras, dir. Amen. Perfs. Ulrich Tukur, Mathieu Kassovitz. Kino International, 2002.
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