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Film / The Search

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The Search is a 1948 film directed by Fred Zinneman, starring Montgomery Clift in his film debut.

Karel is a young boy in postwar Europe, a refugee ("displaced person") who is living in a camp for children in occupied Germany. He is near catatonic due to the traumas he suffered in the war, unable to remember his name or where he came from, only able to answer "Ich weiss nicht" when asked questions. Karel is being transported with other war orphans one day when, terrified because they think the Red Cross truck is a gassing van, the children break out and escape. Karel, still unable to speak or remember his name, runs into Steve, a kindly young engineer in the U.S. Army (Clift). Steve takes Karel in, names him Jim, and teaches him English.

After Steve is told that Jim's mother is believed to be dead, based on the Auschwitz tattoo on the boy's arm, he resolves to take Karel/Jim to America with him, despite the bureaucratic red tape. What Steve doesn't know is that while Karel's father and sister died in Nazi camps, Karel's mother Hanna is very much alive, and is tramping around Germany on foot, going from camp to camp, trying to find her son.

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A 2014 movie of the same name is considered an remake, with the setting being updated from post-World War II to during The Chechnya Wars where a young Chechen boy is being protected by an French NGO worker looking to reunite him with his siblings.


Tropes:

  • Big Brother Instinct: Steve takes a frightened, ragged refugee boy under his wing.
  • The Determinator: Hanna Malik, traveling all over Germany on foot, looking for her son.
  • Dumb Struck: Karel can't even speak after his suffering and trauma in Nazi concentration camps.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: Karel's hat, after the other little boy who was wearing it drowns in the river.
  • Flashback: To the arrest of the Malik family in Czechoslovakia, and Hanna's separation from Jim.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Scared, wide-eyed "Jim" couldn't be more sympathetic.
  • I Want My Mommy!: When he sees another happy family, including a mom, "Jim" flips out and demands Steve help him find his mom. When Steve demurs (because he's been told that Jim's mom is dead), the boy runs away to try and find her himself.
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  • Match Cut: From the panels of the door in the Maliks' upper-class home, to the window panes of a concentration camp hut.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Hanna arrives at an UNRRA office just after Steve and Jim leave.
  • Narrator: Mrs. Murray, the orphanage director, is also the narrator in the early part of the film.
  • Orphanage of Love: The UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) children's camp, headed by the kindly Mrs. Murray, who is working hard to find homes for the children. She sends several trucks full of Jewish children to new homes in Palestine.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: He isn't an orphan, but everyone thinks he is, and Karel suffered terribly as a child alone in the camps.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Karel's cap with a ribbon, the only possession he has left. The boy escaping with Karel was wearing it when he jumped in the river and drowned. The cap later convinces Hanna that her son is dead.
  • Parental Substitute: Steve takes a fatherly interest in little "Jim".
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Even after Steve coaxes the boy into speaking English, "Jim" can't remember his real name or where he comes from.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Mrs. Murray, the narrator, mentions the "endless roads that run in parallel" throughout Germany—the autobahn, roads that didn't exist in the U.S. in 1948 but soon would when Eisenhower started building the interstate highway system.
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