Woman In Gold
The first thing you have to get over is Helen Mirren speaking English
with a German accent. Actually,
she’s pretty convincing, and if she didn’t have such a thick acting resume
we could pretend better that she’s actually someone else, in this case, Maria
Altmann, yes, a “real person” who died in 2011 at age 94.
Maria was born in
Yes, the Nazis were coming. With
the stiff salutes and imperious ways; inciting the populace to a patriotic
fervor that would result first in aggressive territory takeovers, and then,
alas, plunging the entire world into a war that would bear some 50 million
casualties, among them, yes, the 6 million Jews slaughtered in Europe, for no
reason other than being Jewish.
Maria barely manages to escape. Her
parents are too slow to see the imminent danger in time to save themselves,
assuming that surely the entire country would not descend into the madness of
the Nazis, but, of course, it did. But
now that Maria is an octogenarian widow living in
A family friend, also long-since immigrated, mentions to Maria that
apparently the painting entitled “Woman In Gold” is quite celebrated back in
Austria, and now that they’ve officially established a governmental commission
to restore art work that was stolen by the Nazis to its rightful owners,
wouldn’t Maria want to inquire about that?
Oh, and my son is a lawyer; why don’t you ask him to help?
Randal Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds, remarkably understated) is indeed a lawyer,
but appears to be at professional loose ends at the moment:
he quit his prestigious job in the big firm to start his own practice,
which didn’t go so well. And now
he literally has nothing better to do than to chase after the genealogy of this
now-famous painting, and what he finds excites him with the possibilities.
He thinks he can actually successfully sue to return the beloved painting
push-back, of course. The Austrian
museum, run by the government, doesn’t want to either admit culpability or
lose the prestigious painting, now an iconic representation of an entire
artistic era. They fight Schoenberg
every step of the way, but that makes Maria even more determined to reclaim
something of what was taken away from all of them during that horrible time in
In Gold” is a fascinating re-visit into that era that is so horrific that it
can hardly be believed: Nazi marches
and rallies; jackbooted soldiers arrogantly harassing its own populace; a whole
culture descending into an Aryan Reign of Terror, that is, ironically, led by a
disaffected Austrian: a failed art
student, no less. The past and the
present intersect both in the vivid memory of Maria Altmann and the seared
historic consciousness of the viewer.
Questions for Discussion:
To whom do art works belong, anyway?
Can, or should, every art work stolen by the Nazis be returned to the
descendants of the “original” owner?
And what about, for example, the great works of
Egyptian antiquity residing in the
Can Nazism happen again? Could an Adolph Hitler
happen again? What would be the
contributing circumstances? And what would prevent them?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the
Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church,