has been written about where Denial
- the true story of the trial of Holocaust denier David Irving in 2000 - fits
into the very 2016 concept of the 'alternative fact'.
The film is fraught with the frustration of
an incredibly knowledgeable woman fighting a long legal battle against a man
who believes (or purports to believe) unthinkable things about Hitler, the
Nazis and the Holocaust. The woman is Deborah Lipstadt, historian, writer and
academic best known for her book 'Denying the Holocaust', in which she accused
David Irving, in no uncertain terms, of doing just that. He sued her for
defamation, she countered that accusation, and that is where the Denial begins.
In the film we see Lipstadt sitting silently
in court for months on end - lest speaking damage her case by rendering it
emotional rather than historical - represented by an elite legal team who,
rather uncomfortably, seem to get an adrenaline rush from the thrill of the
trial. Soon-to-be disgraced historian David Irving tries to explain away the
gas chambers, and deliberately misinterprets historical evidence to argue that
'The Final Solution to The Jewish Problem' was never a plan, and not ordered by
Hitler. To see something so historically significant be so brazenly and
callously denied is incredibly jarring. It is - in the light of Donald
Trump's recent omission of any mention of the Jews in
his Holocaust Memorial Day speech - a chilling watch.
At the very end of the film, Lipstadt gives a
press conference which speaks a room of journalists, and indirectly, she speaks
to a world beginning to get to grips with the implications of a 'post-truth'
society. "Not all opinions are equal". "Elvis Presley is,
unfortunately, dead". It's a neat summation of many of the issues that
plague politics at the moment, especially when it comes to news channels in the
US. It's becoming more apparent that there is a culture of outlets having to
debate unarguable facts merely because one side of the political spectrum
refuse to accept their veracity, with only the late-night comedy roster able to
point out these discrepancies. It's a worrying game in which major political
decisions can be made based purely on gut feeling. Remember how "this
country's sick of experts"? Well, it seems the US is too.
Fox News describes itself as offering
'Opinion and Analysis on Breaking News'. Opinion. On breaking news. This is how
climate change denial happens, this is how holocaust denial happens. This is
the premise which 'Denial' so poignantly deconstructs. When what is felt takes
priority over what is known, the David Irvings of the world become powerful. Even
by its very existence, the film treads a dangerous line between outing Irving
as a dangerous and morally corrupt man, and offering him a dangerous platform
to relight the embers of his views to a new audience in the 21st Century.
This issue of offering a platform is something
cleverly and constantly at the very foreground of the film. As the film in 2017
could be a dangerous reboot to Irving's career, as could the trial have been in
the late 1990s. That Lipstadt refused to settle out of court was a
controversial decision in itself. That she not testify in court, preventing it
from becoming "the Holocaust on trial", as opposed to a trial of
Irving's incompetency as a historian, was even more controversial. Much to
Lipstadt's horror, Holocaust survivors are not asked to testify either.
It is a film in which the relationship
between voice and silence is complex. Refusing to debate with Irving is
Lipstadt's way of not giving his argument any validation, but it is also
difficult to not read the situation as gendered. The secondary reason for her
keeping quiet is her legal team's concern that she might become impassioned and
deviate from fact, undermining the authority of the argument in her book. It's
something we hear of time and time again - the unstable woman, silenced or
sidelined, because she feels so strongly about something she has worked on (or
in this case, devoted her life's research to).
Her male lawyer - albeit with the best intentions
- asks her to shut up in the most official of senses; to not go on the court or
media record, for 'her own good'. Lipstadt's silence is frustrating; whilst her
anger and passion is seen as problematic, Irving's is seen as merely in-line
with his terrible convictions. At the end of the film, she is victorious, and
finally given a voice. She makes the speech about not all opinions being equal.
It's a moment of triumph for truth, knowledge and integrity, and her platform
skyrockets above that of the slimy, unapologetic Irving.
If anything, 'Denial' is about the power a platform
can have. It applies to race, gender, environment, LGBTQ+ or any other issue
where there is an oppressed minority. When we see the deliberate manipulation
of fact as a reasonable alternative, we risk retracing the steps of progress.