Picks and Pans Main: Screen

updated 01/22/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/22/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Music Box; Enemies, A Love Story and Triumph of the Spirit, all based on Nazi atrocities in World War II, were put into release at the end of last year, making them eligible for '89 Oscar consideration. They have all been variously praised—sometimes, perhaps, in dutiful fashion—but watching them presents the moviegoer with a strange burden.

It is hard to criticize even part of these films without feeling lacking as a person, insensitive to the terrible events they reflect. Are Frederic Forrest's character and performance in Music Box really so bad? Is Triumph really so redundant? Is Ron Silver really so insubstantial in Enemies? Or do such judgments arise from a jaded indifference, a sad cynicism, maybe a hidden prejudice?

In any case, it might be time for moviemakers to quietly reconsider films based on the Holocaust. It may well be that because the impact of Naziism was of such profound significance and because humanity is so slow to learn, the events of the Holocaust cannot be examined too many times or in too many ways.

There remain, however, any number of similarly profound historical events (and events that are also dramatically meaningful to Western audiences) that have been left all but untouched by the movies—the American Revolution and Civil War, World War I, the Depression, the civil rights movement, for instance. Meanwhile, in recent years, we have seen such dramatizations of the Nazi era as Sophie's Choice, The Winds of War, Playing for Time, Holocaust.

The events are beginning to seem too familiar, the Nazi oppressors and their stunned victims too much like stereotypes out of an old Western. The greatest danger, after all, might lie in diluting the impact of the Holocaust, in making routine what should always and only be regarded with the deepest, most chilling sense of horror.

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