In the opening moments of Lore, the sophomore offering from Australian writer-director Cate Shortland (Somersault), a family packs for a country getaway. We soon understand, however, that the getaway they’re preparing for is a run for their lives.
The father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) wears a disheveled SS uniform. The mother (Ursina Lardi) is a tightly wound shrew who appears to hold her husband personally responsible for the fact that Allied forces have not only entered but are in the process of dividing up her country.
They have five children — an infant, young twin boys and two adolescent girls, the older of whom is 14 and nicknamed Lore. She’s played by the gifted German actress Saskia Rosendahl. The task Shortland has assigned her is nothing less than making a Nazi sympathizer ... well, sympathetic.
Before heading literally for the hills, the family must complete a to-do list: Shoot the dog (one less mouth to feed), check. Fill suitcases with valuables, check. Destroy incriminating evidence — notebooks cryptically labeled “Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring: CONFIDENTIAL” — what the…? I mean, check.
As I watched the officer torch a small mountain of documents, the flames making us ponder the human beings he might have consigned to the same fate, my heart wept, but my mind wandered. Before I knew it, my thoughts had drifted to the relative ease with which evidence could be destroyed in those days. Pour some gasoline. Light a match. These days, the faces looking out from those files would await vengeance on a hard drive somewhere.
Most of Lore chronicles the teenager’s struggle to get her siblings safely to her grandmother’s house 500 miles away in Hamburg. Mom has turned herself in to the occupying force. (“It’s a camp,” she tells her daughter. “Prison is for criminals.”) Dad has rejoined what’s left of his unit. So the kids must make the long trek through a postapocalyptic countryside on their own. Think “Little Red Riding Hood” meets The Road.
The premise is intriguing. Adolescence is tricky enough; what would it be like to be a card-carrying member of the Hitler Youth and a rabid antisemite, dealing with hormones on top of the harsh reality that the world you know has ceased to exist?
Nonetheless, my mind wandered almost as much as those Aryan runaways. There just isn’t much going on here thematically. We hope the children survive their perilous journey, of course, but the film’s only other question mark comes close to trivializing the backdrop of the Holocaust.
The kids cross paths with an intense young man named Thomas (Kai Malina), who develops a thing for Lore. He has papers identifying him as a Jew but bears only a marginal resemblance to the photo. The dance of curiosity, revulsion and lust the two do is not choreographed by the filmmaker in a terribly credible manner. One minute the young woman calls him “a filthy Jew.” The next, she guides his hand beneath her dress and is stunned when he doesn’t go all Nicholas Sparks on her. The viewer is not stunned when he contemplates looking for love in other postapocalyptic places.
Based on Rachel Seiffert’s novel The Dark Room, Lore is a movie whose story is intermittently compelling but whose message is not particularly clear. Maybe heredity has something to do with it, after all: Can offspring be held responsible for the sins of their fathers and mothers?
That’s not much, but it beats the interpretation posited on Roger Ebert’s site by Steven Boone:
The protagonists are stand-ins for us ... citizens of the 27 NATO countries that signed onto America’s War on Terror ... How many Americans among them believe in ... assassination-by-robot-plane of individuals thought to be linked to Al Qaeda?
So now we’re Nazis?
I guess Boone forgot the novel came out in May 2001, months before 9/11. And I guess Lore had somebody’s mind wandering even more than mine.