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Film / God on Trial

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A 2008 BBC film set in Auschwitz, wherein the imprisoned Jews put God on trial for breach of contract. Some of them assert that God has broken the covenant with Israel by allowing the Holocaust. The play is almost set entirely in a single barracks, with almost all of the 'action' being the debate between the Jews.

Despite having a plethora of atheist arguments to pose against God's existence, even the Jews who conclude that God has abandoned them do not conclude that God isn't real, just that he is in breach of contract, or has sided with the Nazis, making a new covenant with a new chosen people.

The film has a framing device wherein modern-day visitors to Auschwitz are told of the story of the trial.

God on Trial provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: In an understandably sober movie, the only time people laugh is during an argument over God's goodness and focus on only the Jewish people using insects as examples, one responds to the story of bees collecting pollen seemingly without benefit by asking if the flowers they're pollinating are Jewish.
  • Author Tract: Completely averted. Both sides are represented, with a counterpoint for practically every point brought up, and both sides get a final scene. The last monologue is given by a man (the whispering Rabbi) claiming that God had forged a new covenant with the Nazis. The last scene in the World War II-era camps, however, features a faithful Jew who lied to the Nazis in order to go to the gas chambers in place of his largely-agnostic son, and those that were led to the gas chamber died praying. The author himself was Catholic, but the debate is fairly well framed as a Jewish one, with the prisoners not posing any arguments based on the New Testament.
  • Badass Boast: One of the new prisoners gives one for the Jewish people. The Roman Empire which destroyed the Second Temple is dust while the Torah lives.
  • Darkest Hour: The trial finds God guilty. He has broken his contract, his word, with the Jews. Some of the younger men and scholars among them nearly burst into tears, realizing what this means for them. They ask what are they supposed to do now, to which the Rabbi replies that all they can do now, is pray.
  • Downer Ending: The Jews conclude that God has abandoned them, the film ends with most of the prisoners who have had the most screen time being led to the gas chambers, and no one from the barracks is confirmed to have escaped or survived until the liberation by Allied forces at the end of the war, with the trial itself fading into legend.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The Kapo running the block proudly declares himself a career criminal who will do whatever it takes to survive, but ultimately allows an old man to volunteer in place of his son, even bribing another kapo to look the other way.
  • Evil Stole My Faith: The Holocaust and concentration camps broke the faith of many of its victims. While many (but not all) of the Jews hold on to their belief in God, the trial accuses that their covenant with God - the belief that God loves them and will protect them - is breached.
  • Foreshadowing: When arguing for reasons why the Holocaust might be for the greater good, one of the prisoners suggests it might lead to a return to Israel.
  • Final Solution: The most famous Real Life example is being undertaken against the Jews, which results in the trial as they wonder if God has abandoned them.
  • Framing Device: The events of the film seem to be related to modern day visitors to Auschwitz by the tour guide.
  • French Jerk: The Scientist who dismisses the other Jews as babies for their belief in God is from Paris. He refuses to participate until he explodes with anger at the whole idea of an interventionist god.
  • Gallows Humour: When faced with a speech about how the Jewish people have suffered great tragedy again and again one of the judges asks if this is evidence for or against God.
  • Germanic Efficiency: Invoked with the Kapo joking that the trains are running so well that new prisoners are arriving faster than old ones can be killed. Again during Judges deliberation when the Lawyer Judge asserts that the camps are filthy and disorganised on purpose, as no German could have designed them that way by mistake.
  • God Is Evil: Played with. Until the end the Jews were not discussing God's character - such banter was irrelevant to the trial, and stripped from the record. The jury ultimately decides God is in breach of contract, although whether they find him evil is not stated. The final monologue, however, features a man who is unequivocally of this position.
  • God Is Good: Subverted, again. Argued by a decreasing number of the Jews as the trial goes on, but still maintained by at least one of the main characters until the end. The trial was to determine if their deity was in breach of his covenant.
  • God Is Neutral: The Jews conclude that, while God was angry and spiteful, he was on their side. But not anymore.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: A complicated example if there ever was one. One of the judges reveals he used to be a "good jew hating German" whose kids were in the Hitler Youth before the Nazis sent him to Auschwitz because of his father being Jewish. He says he didn't know a word of the Torah before arriving. He ultimately tells the other judges that since the Nazis have stripped everything else that made the inmates men, they should keep hold onto "our God" even if he's daft.
  • History Repeats: The whispering Rabbi argues this. The Jews were now experiencing the horror of genocide that was inflicted on their historical enemies from the scriptures. This is also the argument of the French Scientist: monotheism leads to tyranny, first with the Jewish kings, then the Christian kings, now with Hitler.
  • Hope Spot: Lieble, a man who was forced into an impossible Sadistic Choice, talks about feeling the sun's warmth makng him feel the presence of God. He begins praying, making it seem like the trial will exonerate God afterall. Then the SS barge in and drag the new arrivals to be processed. That brings the mood all the way down.
  • Multinational Team: The prisoners include Germans, Poles, and two Frenchmen. The German Kapo does not hesitate to call the newcomers Polacks. But to the Nazis they're all Jews and lumped together.
  • The Oath-Breaker: The trial ultimately concludes God is Guilty. He has broken his covenant with the Jews. The whispering Rabbi goes further and speculates he's formed a new one, with the Nazis, which will be broken when He is done with them, ad infinitum.
  • Sadistic Choice: One of the men, Lieble, is called forward as a counter-argument when free will was mentioned as a reason for evil, and that men make choices. He was forced to choose which of his three sons he wanted to remain with him, and which two would be taken away.
    Lieble: This gentleman... he said that we always have a choice. Which should I have chosen? The youngest? The oldest? The weakest? The strongest? ...Which should I have chosen? ...Excuse me, I don't want free will. I want my sons.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: The guard colaborator shouts out "Within these walls *I* am god!!!" and calls for quiet and asks why he has not been struck down. His answer is that god wants him to be evil.
  • Take Me Instead: The old prisoner successfully begs to replace his son in the gas chambers. This even after his faith had been shaken by the trial and his public criticism of his son as "bad jew" during the trial. note 
  • Those Wacky Nazis: They don't make a major appearance in general, but the movie seems to make a point of show-casing the 'normalness' of the Nazis, to emphasize the casual brutality of the Holocaust.
  • Traumatic Haircut: The new Polish arrivals came a day early and so spend half the film with full beards. The processing of them into the camp sees them roughly shaved, with cuts visible on their scalps afterwards.
  • Would Hurt a Child: God/Adonai would in a fit of rage. In the scriptures, David took Sheba, the wife of Uriah to himself, by arranging to have Uriah killed against the wishes of God. Adonai however didn't rightfully punish David, but instead went after his innocent son. The child did not die swiftly, but writhed in agony for seven days. David debased himself in piteous desperation, pathetically seeking forgiveness. God didn't care, and the child died anyway.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: For the Whispering Rabbi, it's genocide and murdering children to make an example of others. No being, however powerful or incomprehensible, however beloved by the masses, can ever justify doing this. It is not good.
  • You Have Failed Me: The whispering Rabbi reveals in the scriptures God/Adonai hates us overriding him, by choosing compassion over wholesale slaughter. He gave King Saul as an example, since he was under God's command to utterly destroy the people of Amalek, and spare no one. He met the Kanites, who weren't even the Amalekites, thus he urged them to flee and be spared from the ensuing carnage. God was pissed by Saul's mercy, and denounced him as king. Thus Samuel brought forth king Agag, and hacked him to pieces to appease Adonai, restoring the Jews to his favor.