“They’ll get their punishment. I promise you.”
Justice. Revenge. Are they the same? Are they even related? In the Fade from Fatih Akin is the story of a search for justice, and what happens when that justice is denied. In the Fade is Germany’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film.
Katja (Diane Kruger) has a wonderful life with her husband Nuri and young son Rocco. Her world is shattered when Nuri and Rocco are killed in a terrorist bombing. She can barely make it through the funeral, and her life is spiraling downward until two neo-Nazis are charged with the crime. From there on, her only mission is to see justice done.
The film plays out in three acts, entitled “The Family” (meeting the family, the bombing, the grief), “Justice” (the trial), and “The Sea” (Katja’s actions after the trial). Katja’s grief is the driving force through it all. At times her grief leads her to self-destructive behavior. It is only when she has hope that the killers will be punished that she seems to have a reason to live. But what would happen if things didn’t work out in the trial?
In press notes Akin (who was born in Germany to Turkish immigrant parents) notes that the story is inspired by xenophobic killings by members of the National Socialist Underground. But he chose to make a survivor (Katja) the empathetic center of the film. There is no attempt to justify the murderers’ perspective. Rather we remain totally focused on Katja and her emotional struggle before, during and after the trial. It is in that struggle that Akin is able to take us into the darkness of revenge.
How do we differentiate between justice and vengeance? We often think of the two as almost synonymous. However, justice connotes a high ideal—even a biblical ideal. It is a call to bring things back into alignment. Justice should help to create healing and reconciliation. Revenge, on the other hand, may seem like it is making something right, but in fact it only serves to create more pain and suffering. Revenge may seem like an imperfect form of justice, in that it pays back pain for pain. In the end it is only a counterfeit.
The emotional journey we take with Katja eventually takes us to some very dark possibilities as she responds to injustice. Even in this she is driven more by her grief than by the ideal of justice. The combination of grief, anger, and vengeance leads to a result that may seem inevitable, but fails to leave us feeling that justice or healing has been achieved.
Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures