I’ve never been inside a sewer. I’ve never been trapped in complete blackness for over a year. I’ve never had to fear for my life every second. But after seeing “In Darkness,” I feel like I have.
This is a brutal, uncompromising movie. It’s not fun to watch. However, that doesn’t make it a bad film — far from it. In fact, the unpleasantness is the entire point of the film. The ugliness portrayed underscores the sacrifices and fortitude of the protagonists, as well as the viciousness of the antagonists. I’d actually be more than a bit chagrined if there were a bunch of wise-cracking shenanigans or pithy one-liners. While there are scenes of levity, and even some action, it is minimalist and always treated as real and visceral.
The story concerns a group of Jewish families hiding out in the sewers, shepherded by the Polish sewage inspector, Leopold Socha (Robert Więckiewicz). Complications arise as Nazis grow suspicious about Socha’s activities, and the suspense keeps the audience at the edge of their sears.
What makes the film stand-out is how diverse each of the different Jewish characters are (and with over 10 of them, that’s a feat unto itself), as well as how human the characters are. We see infidelity, sexual tension, drug use, nervous breakdowns, etc. They seem like people rather than simply victims waiting to be rescued. Their flaws make them real, and that makes their plight real in return.
Socha himself is another complicated character that grounded the film and keeps it engaging. He isn’t a saint, which made him more interesting. For instance, he was hostile and manipulative with the Jews during their first meeting (lamenting later that he could’ve wrung more money out of them, as well as reassuring his partner that they could turn them in if things go bad), as well as nearly giving up later when he felt the Jews were being ungrateful. It made his heroic arc more satisfying and more believable. Men can do great things in extraordinary circumstances — pure, saintly heroes are fictions in the minds of film screenwriters.
Overall, I don’t think I’d want to watch this film again, but, to reiterate, that is not a denouncement of the film. It is harrowing, it is dark and it is long. However, it is meant to be. We are supposed to feel the suffering of the Jewish population during World War II and the various sacrifices those who tried to do the right thing endured. The film is supposed to warn us about the depths of human depravity and cowardice that can exist. If it were pleasant, those themes, and those sacrifices, would not resonate with the audience.
The film needed to be dark. It needed to be dirty. You, the audience needed to feel pain, sorrow and sit in the filth. By the end of the film, you could almost smell the sewer around you.