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Film / The Debt

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"The truth stays in this room with us."

The Debt is an Israeli espionage drama released in 2007 and an American remake released in 2011. The latter stars Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Ciarán Hinds and Tom Wilkinson.

The original film was set in Israel, 1997, and Berlin, Germany, 1965, and follows three young Mossad agents, Ehud, Zvi, and Rachel. In 1965, the three agents were sent to Berlin to capture a Nazi war criminal named Dieter Vogel (a.k.a. the Surgeon of Birkenau). Despite careful planning, their inexperience and poor luck threaten their mission. The film cuts between 1965 and 1997, where the three agents deal with the aftermath of their mission 30 years later.

The 2011 remake followed the exact same plot, however the names of some characters are changed. When reading this page, remember that Zvi (2007) = Stephan (2011) and that Ehud (2007) = David (2011). Both films use two casts to play the agents in both time periods.

Not to be confused with the 1999 Polish movie.


  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original Israeli version, the two male Mossad agents Rachel works with are more or less morally neutral. The American version, however, clearly designates David a nice guy and Stephan a jerk.
  • Badass Israeli: Deconstructed. The Israeli agents are tough, but also human. They go to extreme lengths to get their man, but are also prone to mistakes. Ultimately, their most extreme measure is covering up their failure, since they cannot handle the shame of a Nazi beating them.
  • Callback: The syringe. And, less obviously, using a shard (of pottery or glass) as an Improvised Weapon.
  • Checkpoint Charlie: Through the Berlin Wall, naturally.
  • Cool Old Lady: 1997 Rachel.
  • Creepy Physical: For the sake of the mission, Rachel has to receive several check-ups from a Nazi gynecologist known for his sadistic experiments on concentration camp inmates. Even in the middle of a spy thriller, those scenes are tense.
  • Deep Cover Agent: All three agents qualify while in East Berlin.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: "Doktor Bernhardt" (Vogel) is married to one of the nurses at his clinic. Asking whether she's still alive seems to be the only uncalculated thing he does.
  • Evil Old Folks: The evilest.
  • Expy: Vogel is one for Josef Mengele (a Nazi doctor who performed horrible experiments on Jews during the Holocaust, who escaped attempts by Nazi hunters to be brought to justice and died in Brazil).
  • Flashback: The 1965 sequences.
  • Faux Action Girl: Rachel, both in 1965 and 1997. Despite being at least 10-20 years younger than Vogel and trained in Krav Maga, he outfights her twice.
    • Although in both cases, Vogel manages to surprise her and disorient her before she can fight back.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Rachel's rather jagged facial scar is a mark of shame, a constant reminder of her failure and the lie that she is leading.
  • Handicapped Badass: 1997 Stephan is stuck in a wheelchair thanks to a car bomb somewhere during the time skip. But there's no doubt he's a badass.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Dieter Vogel tries, with some success, to torment the Mossad agents.
  • Herr Doktor: Vogel.
  • How We Got Here: Subverted. Near the beginning of the film, Rachel (in 1997) reads a passage from her daughter's book about the 1965 mission. As she reads, we see the scene — the climax of the mission — unfold as an isolated Flashback. A little later, the film goes back to 1965 to show the whole mission, until we eventually reach the scene from the book again. But this time, when Vogel bashes Rachel's head against the radiator, she loses consciousness, and he gets away. We then see some of the aftermath of what really happened before shifting back to 1997 for the real climax of the story.
  • Instant Sedation: Averted — Vogel puts up quite a fight before going down.
  • Jerkass: Stephan.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: Played straight in the American version when the characters are supposed to be speaking Hebrew (other languages are subtitled).
  • Lonely Piano Piece: In-universe. Rachel, feeling down, plays Beethoven's Mondscheinsonate on the apartment piano. Stephan, who is a better pianist, sits beside her and gives it more emotion.
  • Love Triangle
  • Mad Doctor: Dieter Vogel, known as "the surgeon of Birkenau."
  • My Greatest Failure: While Stephan and Rachel are able to put the past behind them, David never forgives himself.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: David wants to go after Vogel in 1997, but can't because Rachel doesn't give him her "permission." However, Rachel ends up killing Vogel in his stead.
  • Nazi Hunter: The Main Characters.
  • Pregnant Badass: Rachel, though she isn't showing.
  • Retired Badass: The three agents in 1997.
  • Retired Monster: Dieter Vogel.
  • Shoe Phone: Rachel's necklace contains a tiny camera.
  • Shot-for-Shot Remake: The American film has an identical plot, the same characters, and many of the lines are direct translations from the original Hebrew (close to the English subtitles). The only significant difference is the pace; the American version features more atmosphere shots, and stretches scenes out more than the original did, and adds a single action scene.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Most likely the main reason Rachel and Stephan get married. They get divorced sometime before the 1997 scenes.
  • Show Some Leg: Rachel distracts a train platform guard by flirting with him.
  • The '60s: Most of the story takes place in 1965.
  • The Social Darwinist: Vogel tells David that the victims of the Holocaust went to their deaths without resistance, proving that Jews are mindless animals who don't deserve to live in the first place. David — whose entire family was killed in the Holocaust — finally loses his cool during this speech. This turns out to have been Vogel's aim, since he uses it to escape.
  • Starts with a Suicide
  • Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred!: Vogel could teach Palpatine a thing or two.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Jessica Chastain becomes Helen Mirren, Marton Csokas becomes Tom Wilkinson, and Sam Worthington becomes Ciarán Hinds.
  • Train Escape: Type 2. That was the plan, anyway.
  • Undercover as Lovers: Rachel and David pose as a married couple during their time in Berlin.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Rachel and David.