This movie serves as a reminder that Western civilization can be as heartlessly destructive as terrorists we face around the globe in the 21st century.
One of the most meaningful steps I’ve taken in my life was to major in history in college. I attended what was then known as Marian College (now University) and I had the good fortune of falling under the guidance of Professor William Doherty.
More to the point, I learned first hand the destruction caused largely by European nations in the two world wars fought in the Twentieth century. While we rightfully condemn Islamic extremists fighting under the banner of ISIS today, it is worth remembering that the so called Christian world sent over 10 million European and American young men to their grave in World War 1 and followed it up with more than 60 million fatalities in World War 2. We can’t embrace our present struggle in the world without remembering our past.
That is vividly played out in the emotionally powerful film Anthropoid, brought to the screen by director Sean Ellis. The movie revisits an early moment in World War 2 where man’s inhumanity to man is put on full display.
It centers on a true story when the Third Reich’s number three in command, Reinhard Heydrich, is gunned down by Czech’s nationals in late 1941. Heydrich was leading the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia. He was the principal architect behind what is now known as the Final Solution and became widely reviled as the Butcher of Prague.
The story itself has no emotional upside, as the heralded Czech assassins were destined for death. The two leaders, played by the Irish actors Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, had parachuted into Czechoslovakia to attempt an assassination with the expectation that it would cost them their own lives.
Murphy plays Josef Gabcik while Dornan embodies Jan Kubis, two individuals who are still honored in their homeland. Though most of the movie is in English, all of the actors use a very effective Czech accent that contributes to the quality of the film.
I must confess that Mr. Murphy is one of my favorite actors, having previously starred in edgy, original films like Inception (2010), Sunshine (2007), The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2007), Breakfast on Pluto (2005) and the horror film 28 Days Later (2003). He is a daring actor who seems to relish eccentric roles. As for Mr. Dornan, let me just say that it was rewarding to see him demonstrate acting talent after having endured his starring role in Fifty Shades of Grey (2015).
Heydrich was the only principle Nazi to be assassinated in World War 2, and you know that the Czech’s were going to pay a nasty price for their actions. The underground, led by Jan Zelenka-Haysky (Toby Jones) made sure that all of the conspirators had cyanide tablets to avoid being tortured and eventually executed by the Nazis. If cornered, all of the Czech patriots knew that they were left with no option but suicide.
When the movie ended, I had to sit awhile before leaving the theater. While I knew what was coming, the emotional impact could not be avoided. In particular, both Murphy and Dornan fell in love with two women played by Anna Geislerova and Charlotte Le Bon, and they faced their own destruction.
While it is impossible to give anything away, in the end you see Murphy standing waste deep in a church basement filled with water as numerous Nazis approached with machine guns. Down to his last bullet, you see him put the gun to his head as he looks through the dripping rain, seeing his deceased lover reaching out her hand to embrace him.
This was one of those times when dying for a noble cause is a worthy death.