Thoughts on the Film: "The Music Box"

When this film was mentioned in my genocide class, I didn't really get a real idea of what the film was about. That was a very difficult piece of cinema to watch. I consoled myself a few times with the idea that it was fictional, but that wouldn't stay in my head very long as I heard the stories and thought about listening to Dr. Steve Rogers from the OSI and the testimonies that I heard, watched and read. Before I watched this film, I felt pretty secure in the idea that there shouldn't be a statute of limitations on war crimes- I totally agreed with Dr. Steve Rogers. After watching this film, I still feel the same way, but I see what damage can be caused in the present far removed from the crimes themselves. It's clear that these crimes and those who perpetrate them have created the potential for harm throughout their lives and the lives of others. It's really a challenging situation because I also feel that if they are hiding their past, they haven't repented or recovered from it. The metaphor of the music box was really apt- the music cannot go on forever and truth does sometimes come out.... and underneath the beauty and simplicity that can be seen can hide some pretty awful stuff.

“It's never going to be OK again” - Michael Laszlo

The story is focused on a man called Michael J. Laszlo, an immigrant to the United States from Hungary. He is a single father who lives in the same town as his daughter Ann Talbot with her son Michael. Ann Talbot is an attorney and when her father is charged by the Office of Special Investigations for lying on his US citizenship application and has the potential to be extradited to Hungary to be charged for perpetrating war crimes, she agrees to be his attorney. She reads the paperwork and evidence and finds herself slowly questioning her father's past and defending him until his case is dismissed. However, she struggles mentally and emotionally as she discovers her father is the man that is described in the documents and she has set him free. Discovering his past and confronting him with it, realizing that he still cannot admit it and is willing to cut her off for it, recognizing he is only interested in the pictures and where they are.... The film ends with her mailing the photographs along with a letter to the prosecutor in the OSI and the photos being released to the media. She then has the hard task of explaining to her son that her father and his grandfather is guilty of the crimes he was charged with. As Mr. Laszlo says, things will never be OK for him again. When secrets are discovered, the world appears to change for everyone.... even though nothing has changed but perspective.

“The Holocaust is the world's sacred cow. Holocaust survivors are secular saints. You'd be better off pissing on the tomb of the unknown soldier than cross examining them” – Harry (her father-in-law)

This quote was pretty revealing to me and it suggested two things to me. It suggested that individuals who have survived the Holocaust are singled out and get special help and that this character doesn't agree with that. I looked at my own feelings and feel like I see and understand part of this statement in my own life and perspective. I think that I do treat known Holocaust victims differently. I think that I would be more likely to give them special treatment and if I could find a politically correct way to do it, I would want to hear and document their stories. I also recognize that I feel like their experiences were so horrible that if I can make their current life a little easier, I want to do it. I can't make up for what happened and I wasn't even alive, but I still feel a debt. I feel like my country didn't do enough soon enough and they were human beings that were significantly persecuted. Heck, I am a Mormon and my religion has a history of persecution against its members as well... not nearly as much as those of the Jewish faith I must stress. However, I see that as a debt I owe and I feel no anger towards the victims themselves nor do I feel that if people feel the same way I do it is inappropriate. I listened to that statement and realized that character feels annoyance that these victims may get special treatment. He even described them as 'sacred cows' – animals who are treated better than some people... Funnily enough, I agree in one way as I feel like we should be treating all people better and only see a problem with treating the cows well and people poorly.... can't we treat people and animals well? Is that possible for us as a race? I do wonder and doubt sometimes....

“I'm not a beast, I'm a father. It's not me... It's not me” - Michael Laszlo

“None of the men I knew were monsters. They were salt of the earth men like your old man.” - Harry (father in law)

These statements are an amazing commentary on perspective and values and the ability to excuse behavior in those we like. All of us have done things we are ashamed of in our lives.... mistakes, poor choices, etc... I believe that is part of being human and so we feel pressed to attempt to learn and to understand our experience better. This helps us to understand other people and their experiences and how the world and our communities and we as human beings really work. I look at my friends and see only good and wonderful people. I look at my church community and I see many people that I may not know well or even may not like, but people that I think are generally good and kind and nice people. I found myself really identifying with Ann Talbot as she looks at the people around her and is confused as to why they say some of the things that they say and discovers new aspects of those she cares for. It is sometimes very easy to see what we want to see in other people and in ourselves.

“He's not a monster. I'm his daughter. I know him better than anyone.”

When I heard this line, I thought about the character standing in front of a mirror that then cracked and became several views that she was trying to put together but the pieces didn't seem to fit. They didn't fit because she was trying to keep the image and perspective that she had of her father intact... It was a challenge to recognize that was the problem with the image. (It's a challenge for any of us.) This was a powerful moment because I thought back on my life and my parents and realized that I do not know much about their pasts as well. I have some ideas and have been told things, but that's it. Except for a quirk of fate, my parents can't surprise me in the same way that Ann Talbot was. These people that we call monsters can be the man next door who is someone we like, we respect. And we just didn't know.

“I care about remembering. It's too late to change what happened but its never too late to remember what happened.... Our country has always tried to be a haven for those who have been persecuted and after the war we let in thousands of its victims, but unfortunately we also let in some of the executioners.” - Prosecutor Burke

I feel the same way. I cannot change anything and watching this film was so immensely painful. It is not too late to remember, to recognize and to try and understand. I believe that when in doubt, our country needs to let someone in. I would rather save a few executioners to save victims just like I would rather a few guilty men to not go to jail if it makes it sure that no innocent person will go. I had never heard of the OSI before this class and one thing I feel sure of is that this department is not a waste of governmental resources. I feel its importance more strongly as I watched this prosecutor having to explain that he isn't being vindictive, that this isn't a personal vendetta, that his job is needful and has meaning. Dr Steve Rogers seemed to have some of the same experiences and I wonder how much of a struggle that has been for him. When I listened to him I found myself wondering how much of his experience was more of a view of his perspective and not entirely the way 'it might be'. I watched Ann Talbot tear that prosecutor apart and I saw his frustration that years of research was simply being disregarded and I thought of Dr. Rogers and felt I understood his history a little better. I hope we do continue to fund the Office of Special Investigations.

“How could you do those things papa? How could you do those things to us... to Mikey?... Why can't you try to say the truth.?” - Ann Talbot

Michael Laszlo was unable to even verbalize or admit his part. It is always someone else persecuting him. Whether it's communists or other enemies, he feels like he shouldn't have to pay for his past and that its not important. What he wants is what matters. In that moment, we can see the young man he was and so can Ann. She can see the angry, violent man that she didn't know was in there. He sees the past as the past and lying as nothing... it isn't important. Throughout the film we get hints that he really hasn't changed his mind on things. He doesn't have any Jewish friends or relationships and his comments on the Holocaust suggest that by denying it, he can deny his past and potential complications in his own life. He lied on his application – which suggests he knows that his behavior was questionable if not wrong. The fact that he can't even admit it to his daughter after she helped him and seems only interested in the proof suggests to me his concern with his safety and what he wants and that no acknowledgment of sorrow, remorse has entered his head. I did like Michael Laszlo and I commend how he changed his life. But he didn't change what was important.... all he did was do what he could to stay out of trouble. He treated those he loved and respected well- like he did when he was younger. He avoided anyone who was Jewish – I didn't feel like we were able to be sure whether he was avoiding those populations out of fear of being recognized or from dislike (I suspect it was both) just as he did when he was younger. He hasn't made it possible to reconcile his acts to himself, his family or anyone else. In fact, by denying them I feel like he makes the whole situation worse. He resurrects the 'monster' within himself and we can see more clearly the emotions and behaviors that he allowed to get out of control.

Thank you for the opportunity to discover this film. I appreciate a better perspective on the Office of Special Investigations and on Dr Roger's life experiences. I appreciated seeing a fictionalized, but realistic understanding of the trauma and difficulty that these cases bring to families and communities. I questioned some of my own history and thoughts on defending war criminals and whether good behavior really changes anything. We all act 'good' in most circumstances but that doesn't mean our thoughts or ideas have changed... especially if they are not challenged. I appreciate the opportunity to think more and to recognize the challenges on all sides. I feel like I understand people who deny genocides more and while I do not like it, I understand. I wonder how many deniers do so to rehabilitate loved ones instead of just racism and prejudice. I wonder if the OSI has problems recruiting....? I also found myself wondering if laws restricting speech when it comes to genocide denial are a good idea... yet I really believe in free speech. I leave this film with many more thoughts than I walked in with and more questions. That is the sign of a good piece of art.

pictures from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_Box_%28film%29, http://www.snipview.com/q/Music%20Box%20%28film%29, http://www.filmmisery.com/women-in-film-jessica-lange/, http://nuovocinemalocatelli.com/2013/06/28/film-stasera-sulle-tv-gratuite-music-box-di-costa-gavras-con-jessica-lange-venerdi-28-giugno-2013/, http://forum.tntvillage.scambioetico.org/?showtopic=232866,

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