Diving deeper into 'Son of Saul'

By now, you’ve already seen Son of Saul. Or you’ve decided not to see it.
I saw it. The most harrowing two hours of my long life, because this film relentlessly details one story of the Holocaust, a fiction bringing death to life.
Everyone has expressed an opinion on Son of Saul. I especially like the ones in print because I can mull over them, return to them again and again, posit my agreements and disagreements. Every Jewish outlet has spoken its piece, and the general circulation press has chimed in. Non-Jews can’t ignore it, either, because this Hungarian offering has become an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film.
The most interesting, and the most controversial, matter I found in reading these reviews is what they say about the film’s “son,” a boy who actually survives the gas chamber, if only for a few brief moments. Prisoner Saul, assigned to clean up the “pieces,” wants to bury him, not let his body be burned, and so stakes his claim to it.
Is this boy really Saul’s son? Most who have offered both written and oral opinions on this difficult film take that as a given. Saul says this son is “not of my wife,” so some believe the nameless child is his by another woman. But I haven’t read or heard anyone opine outright that the boy is definitely not Saul’s physical, mortal son.
So I’ll say it. I’ll go even further: I believe this whole film is an allegory, a piece of art in which everything we see has subtle meaning far beyond what is actually before us. I believe the “son of Saul” in this film is a symbol of our Jewish people.
Saul’s dream of burial does not come true. He searches desperately for a rabbi to say the memorial prayers, but when he finds one, they cannot pause on their doomed break for freedom. For a long, brief moment they scrabble frantically at dry earth, but must give up this grave-digging effort to run on. Then they cross water, which becomes the boy’s grave.
The survivors of this escape, another dream actually over before it began, find shelter for another brief moment as they gather their small strengths to run again toward safety in the forest.
And what happens next is, for me, the key that unlocks the film’s true meaning. Suddenly a young boy appears, very much alive.
He says nothing, just looks soberly at this motley band. Saul says nothing, but he smiles — for the first and only time. Then the boy walks away. The Nazis come running, but let him pass. We do not see the film’s ending; we just hear it: the hail of bullets. That sound, after all the previous cacophonous sounds of suffering and torture and killing, is the finale to Son of Saul.
Filmmaker/Director Lazlo Nemes has given us an unprecedented, recreated look at Holocaust reality, reinforcing old black-and-white photos with living color, augmenting in movement the testimonies of survivors. He tells Judaism’s oldest story: We live, we suffer, we die, we rise up to live again. Saul’s second “son” will live on.
But no one I’ve read or heard has said this: Our Christian friends might also find their own meaning in this grim tale. Jesus was a Jew who lived, who suffered, who died, and who — for those who became his followers and founders of a new faith — rose to live again. Now, since yesterday was the start of Lent, the weeks leading up to Easter when the death and rising up of Jesus are commemorated, this allegory may be fitting for them as well.
Nemes, a Jew who was “not brought up in a religious fashion,” also says this: “The interesting thing in Judaism is the constant obligation to ask questions…” So I am asking mine now: Is my second interpretation valid?
Please see this film, and judge for yourself.

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