Has anyone out there seen The White Ribbon? We watched it last night, and although we were spellbound, we were also a little horrified. The story takes place in this lovely German village right before World War I.  During the course of a year, several tragic events  take place:  A woman falls through a floor to her death, a doctor and his horse are tripped by a wire strung between trees, a young child is caned and hung upside down, a mentally retarded child is tortured, a man hangs himself, and on and on and on.  

Told from the vantage point of the village schoolteacher, the children seem bright, respectful, and if not angelic, then “good.”  As the movie progresses, we learn that perhaps one reason they’re so well behaved is because they get the starch beaten out of them for even minor infractions. Appallingly, the worst offender is the village pastor who canes his two oldest children because they’re late for dinner. They then have to start wearing white ribbons as a reminders of purity and innocence.

Several other events are taking place all around the village, and we soon learned that almost every home has some sort of abuse, neglect, or horror going on behind closed doors. The good doctor had been “carrying on” with his helper/midwife for years, and in a particularly cruel scene, he tells her that she’s ugly, flabby, messy, disgusting…oh, and that she has bad breath. He then begins to sexually abuse his teenage daughter, and at the end of the movie, the family  disappears, apparently taking the mentally retarded son of the midwife with them.

The movie ends with the townspeople gathering to hear news of the war, and they look like ordinary people, not ogres. The problem we had was that there was no closure. Who was doing the killing and torturing? The children? My sister-in-law discussed it again this morning, and she thinks the children were the culprits and that they did what they did because they were so abused by their “loving” parents.”  Maybe so, but I’ve seen meanness manifested by people who’ve been smothered with the warmest TLC out there.

I’m wondering if the movie is meant to show that people everywhere have that little something, the so-called  “natural man,” that they must overcome. And just think: this was a tiny village. Imagine this malice on a larger scale.

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