Amy & Son of Saul


Both movies break your heart, but in very different ways. Both feature a horrific slide toward oblivion. In both, the main character dies at the end. In both, the drama is that they try to do something right with themselves, but their own efforts just aren't enough.
“Son of Saul” (“Saul fia” in Hungarian) is set in Auschwitz in 1944. Yes, the horrific concentration camp, where Jews and “other undesirables” were sent to be cremated. Saul (Geza Rohrig) is one of the living dead, a Sonderkommando who, in exchange for not being killed himself, is charged with the gruesome task of shepherding others to their doom, and cleaning up afterwards. The loudspeaker overhead assures the new arrivals that after their hygienic shower, they will receive soup and hot tea, and be shown to their quarters. Of course it is all a lie. Saul helps rummage through the clothes for any valuables, and carries off the bodies to dump on a cart for deposit in mass graves, dug by other Sonderkommandos. Of course, their bargain is a lie, as well; they'll be destroyed along with the rest, it's only a matter of time.
Just as it's only a matter of time before Amy Winehouse would get “discovered.” We see family video of her as a 14-year-old, just beginning to sing in front of the camera. Her voice is the kind that makes you stop what you're doing and just listen; can anybody have that much natural resonance, without any kind of amplifying equipment? Can a mere kid really be this good? She's so unspoiled, so endearingly shy, at times just dissolving into a giggly teenager, seemingly without a care in the world.
Saul survives his world gone mad by steeling himself against the backdrop of where he is. He doesn't really pay attention to the prisoners filing past; he looks down a lot, or stares at a middle distance, all focused on the tasks at hand. He's long since shut down his emotions. Thankfully, for the viewer, the carnage takes place in the background, just out of focus, so that the viewer isn't full-frontal confronted, just as Saul has distanced himself from his own context. But everything changes when he sees a boy who somehow survived the gas chamber, but is snuffed out by a heartless Nazi doctor who finishes the job by smothering him. Saul gets it in his head that the boy might be his (though we know nothing of Saul's family background; he speaks little, and tries not to think). And then Saul gets it in his head that he must find a rabbi, who can recite the prayer for the dead (Kaddish), and maybe then the boy can have a proper (individual) burial. It's the most humanizing thing Saul has done, and it gets him in trouble with other Sonderkommandos, some of whom are foolishly planning a rebellion (it will fail; they all do).
Amy Winehouse breaks onto the music scene of the early 2000s seemingly unable to fail. Her voice is incredible, her instincts unassailable. You can't teach this kind of singing; it's a gift. But it's as if she really doesn't know how to handle her fame. She begins to “party' frequently, and doesn't know when to stop. Though she marries, her husband joins her in taking drugs, which she finds overwhelmingly addicting. She gets tattoos and body piercings and wears goth makeup and presents this rebel persona, but there's no real cause. And her downward spiral is as tragic as it is inevitable.
Saul's fate is inevitable, as well. His feeble attempt to break his fall, his descent into the abyss, really is poignant, but his circumstances are simply too overwhelming. As they are for Amy, who could have used a Savior. And so could Saul. And so could we all.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Have you ever felt a victim of circumstance?
  2. Have you ever watched somebody in a downward spiral that you felt couldn't be stopped?
  3. Have you ever encountered a prodigious musical talent? What happened to that person?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Athens, Texas