Film / Amen
"I have seen what was not meant to be seen."

2002 German/French/Romanian film directed by Costa-Gavras which explores the links between Nazi Germany and the Vatican through the eyes of two characters - the Real Life Waffen-SS Officer Kurt Gerstein, and a fictional young Jesuit priest named Riccardo Fontana.

In 1942, Kurt Gerstein of the SS Hygiene Institute travels to Poland to instruct the troops in the safe storage and purification of water, and to observe the use of the new form of the chemical Zyklon B he has developed to eradicate typhus. However, accompanied by a sinister SS Doctor, he is taken to the newly established Belzec extermination camp to witness his creation being put to its true, grisly use. A horrified Gerstein returns to Germany and, despite having been sworn to secrecy, he begins desperately attempting to inform the international community of the massacres. Mindful of the successful campaign against the Aktion T4 programme spearheaded by the Catholic Church, he tries to convey the message to the Vatican, but finds his local bishops unmoved.

However, when Father Fontana hears Gerstein's story, he vows to alert Pope Pius XII in person, as the two men are certain that a clear condemnation from the Holy Father will rouse German Catholics into action once again. Meanwhile, Gerstein returns to Poland to observe the mass murder and provide further testimony. He tells Father Fontana, "I will be the eyes of God in that hell." But he quickly finds himself unable to passively watch, and begins risking his life to sabotage and slow down the killing in any way he can.

This film contains examples of:

  • Above Good and Evil: The Doctor remarks after witnessing a gassing that it is "quite horrible", but believes it is necessary to subdue his conscience for the sake of the ideals of Nazism.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Two characters. It is implied that Father Riccardo Fontana, who is portrayed by half-Jewish actor Mathieu Kassovitz, is from a family of converts. The Gersteins also suspect that their maid Mrs Hinze is Jewish, but do not ask her, or convey their suspicions to any authorities.
  • Argentina is Nazi-Land: The film's final scene, where The Doctor is preparing to catch a boat to Argentina with help from a Vatican cardinal.
  • Badass Preacher: Bishop von Galen, who storms unannounced into the local Nazi HQ to file a complaint against the murder of the disabled, and threatens to alert the faithful if the euthanasia programme does not immediately cease. This was an extremely risky move, and the Doctor is later heard hoping to have some "time alone" with the bishop after the war is won.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The horrific evil of Nazi atrocities is condemned in no uncertain terms, but on the other hand, the film explores the uncomfortable reality that, in terms of concrete action, the Allies were fairly ambivalent towards the suffering of the Jews, Gypsies, and others. The Swedish diplomat Göran von Otter tells Kurt that his efforts to get the Americans to accept 2,000 Jewish children have been in vain, and several times the Doctor at Auschwitz remarks, "German cities are bombarded every night, but here the heavens are clear."
  • Blatant Lies: The various cover stories used to hide the Holocaust.
  • Break Them by Talking: The Doctor gives a couple of breaking lectures.
  • Cassandra Truth: Kurt is faced with disbelief and outright hostility even from avowed anti-fascists when he tries to spread the word that millions of people are being systematically exterminated, as to them the idea that civilized Europeans are capable of such barbarity is simply too far-fetched.
  • Corrupt Church / Saintly Church: Zig-Zagged. The film is certainly critical of the apathy of the upper echelons of the Catholic Church in the face of the mass murders, but also portrays the efforts of individual clergy to hide Roman Jews and Gypsies in monasteries and abbeys.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Many. Kurt's Heel Realization is triggered by witnessing what the other SS men refer to as "treatment" of 400 "units".
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • The film opens with one of these, when the Jewish journalist Stephan Lux walks into the League of Nations and publicly shoots himself in protest against Nazi persecution and the world's silence.
    • Later, when the Nazis occupy Rome, Riccardo dons a yellow star and boards the transport headed for a death camp. On his arrival, the Doctor discovers that he is a Catholic priest and places him in the Sonderkommando, the unit responsible for burning bodies of the murdered. Gerstein finds him starved, weak, and utterly broken by what he has witnessed.
    • While in French custody, Gerstein receives the judgement of the Denazification courts which denounces him for not having extricated himself from the system of death, and commits suicide out of guilt.
  • Downer Ending: All of Riccardo and Kurt's efforts come to naught, Riccardo is gassed at Auschwitz, Kurt is implicated by the Denazification Courts for his membership of the SS, despite his efforts to expose the Holocaust, and he commits suicide out of guilt and despair. In the final scene, the Doctor is shown preparing to catch a boat to Argentina.
  • Driven to Suicide: Stephan Lux. And later, Kurt himself.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Ulrich Mühe's character is known only as "the Doctor".
  • False Reassurance
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Doctor is quite handy with a deceptively friendly smile or a bad joke, which makes his colleagues underestimate how nasty he really is. Heck, his Establishing Character Moment has him smiling at a group of mentally handicapped children being led to their deaths.
  • Foregone Conclusion: A priest and an SS Lieutenant try to prevent the Holocaust. They fail.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Riccardo Fontana.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Despite the centrality of the Holocaust to the narrative, only two deaths occur onscreen. Much of the macabre is left to the audience's imagination.
  • Heel Realization: The look on Kurt's face after he witnesses the gassing of 400 people.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Following the war, Gerstein was implicated by the Denazification courts for his membership of the SS and for involvement in the Holocaust.
  • The Idealist: Both protagonists sincerely believe in the power of public opinion and of the church to put a stop to the atrocities. At first.
  • Implied Death Threat: Rudolf Hoess expresses his annoyance with delays in shipments of Zyklon-B to the death camps by stating that industrialists who assist the SS with the killing of "undesirables" for reasons of profit while falsely espousing Nazi ideology have reason to fear: "We can always aryanize the aryanizers".note 
  • Karma Houdini: The Doctor finds a safe haven in the Vatican before finding a ship bound for Argentina.
  • Kill the Cutie: Kurt's cheerful, mentally disabled niece Bertha is murdered during the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme at the beginning of the film.
  • Master Poisoner: Kurt Gerstein, albeit unintentionally.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: "The Doctor". He personally selects mental patients to be killed early in the war and later participates in the Holocaust.
  • Nave Newcomer: At the start of the film, Kurt is a relatively new member of the SS, and a hopelessly naive one at that, from the audience's perspective.
    Kurt: I don't think the SS are in the business of killing children.
  • Nazi Protagonist: Kurt Gerstein did join the Nazi party in 1933, but disagreed with a lot of their more extreme positions, and was actually expelled in 1936 for distributing anti-Nazi material - he was however a member of the SS, the principal perpetrators of the Holocaust.
  • Rage Within the Machine: Kurt Gerstein unwittingly becomes one of the chief organizers of the Holocaust when his chemical supplies start to be used for killing people instead of typhus. He subtly tries to undermine the actions of his colleagues by delaying shipments of Zyklon-B, but it's entirely too little to make much of a dent.
  • Raised Catholic: The Doctor claims to be "a bit Catholic". It's unclear if he's just being sarcastic, though.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Despite his ignorance of the true purpose of Zyklon B when developing it, and his attempts to stop the massacres, at the end of the film Gerstein commits suicide out of guilt.
  • Reverse Mole: What Gerstein becomes in his efforts to expose the Holocaust.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: When one of the cardinals expresses outrage that Riccardo has requested a papal audience for a man who is not only an SS officer, but a traitor to his country, Riccardo replies;
    "Some betrayals are the last resort of the just."
  • The Social Darwinist: The Doctor, who in one scene shows up at Kurt's house with chocolates to celebrate Darwin's birthday by giving his children with an ape's skull made out of swiss chocolate, with a note inside containing a message about Evolutionary Levels.
  • The Sociopath: The Doctor can make himself appear charming, but he's more or less just mimicing the emotions of those around him. He genuinely doesn't see any problem with exterminating millions of people—even his Above Good and Evil speech to Gerstein seems rehearsed.
  • Time Skip: The film begins during the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme, then jumps a couple of years ahead to 1942. Several jumps occur throughout the narrative until the timeline reaches mid-1945.
  • Title Drop: The Doctor breaks Riccardo by talking, claiming that the Nazis are the new "chosen people", to which the priest responds with a bitterly ironic "Amen!"
  • Turbulent Priest: Bishop von Galen is part of the effort to stop the Aktion T-4 euthanasia program. Father Fontana later attempts to reveal and stop the Holocaust, aiding dissident SS officer Kurt Gerstein.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Kurt is frequently praised for his effective "disinfection" techniques by high-ranking members of the SS. He himself finds the crimes he unwittingly helped to commit horrific.