Final Solution is set against the closing years of Apartheid in South Africa. Tensions rise as the black townships become more empowered in a run-up to a national election in which Nelson Mandela is a viable candidate—and white separatists become more and more extreme in their response to threatened modes of superiority and power.
Early on, a white terrorist is captured by members of the black resistance. He is tortured, and then killed by being set afire while his captors beat and taunt him. The scene is graphic, and not for the faint of heart. "What makes people do that to each other?" cried my wife as we watched Final Solution together again for the first time in several years, this time in a Final Solution Special Edition 2-disc DVD release.
What, indeed? One of the special things about Final Solution Special Edition is that it doesn't just depict the effects of racial hatred, though it does that well enough. Instead, it dramatizes the true story of Gerrit Wolfaardt, a one-time extreme separatist whose hatred of blacks, Jews, and all who were not Afrikaaners ran deep and powerful. We spend enough time with Jan Ellis' portrayal of Wolfaardt to "get" what drives men (and women) to such violent lengths. As director Cristobal Krusen remarks in the disc's commentary track, it's the elimination of all middle ground: "hatred is always black and white."
Demonstrates the Power of Reconciliation
But the best thing about Final Solution Special Edition is the way in which it demonstrates the power of reconciliation—the ability of men (and women) to change not only their thinking and behavior, but their very hearts. There are two Wolfaardts that Ellis portrays here, though they are the same man, and the evolution of the Reconciler is as convincing as the evolution of the Racist. We see that both transformations are not something that happen overnight, but are the results of small seeds planted—of ideas found in the books we read, in the conversations we have with people we admire or despise, of the need we have to defend things we have rashly said, in the examples set by others.
As I noted in my original review of the film for Hollywood Jesus in 2002, the fictionalized setting of the story draws heavily upon improbable coincidences. In the film, a series of critical confrontations arise when a former separatist associate of Wolfaardt's is chased by an angry mob into the sanctuary of a township church—where Wolfaardt just happens to be preaching to a mixed-race congregation about the need for racial reconciliation. Among the congregation also happens to be a young black man, Moses Moremi, who was once the bloody victim of Wolfaardt's blind aggression. The pastor of the church, played by John Kani, also happens to have once been the assigned target of the one-time assassin Wolfaardt. Credibility is stretched taut, to be sure.
But as Jesus said, what is harder to believe: that a crippled man may rise and walk, or that his sins may be forgiven? Yes, writer/director Krusen invents a narrative that takes liberties with the "true story;" but as this Final Solution Special Edition DVD release demonstrates in its commentary track and bonus features, it also packages a greater truth in a fashion which, in some respects, downplays the horror of the actual facts. And Wolfaardt’s real-life story—which is more global and less local in scope—is no less powerful for playing out in a less cinematically-digestible fashion.
Film About South Africa Made in South Africa
I have to wonder what the reputation of Krusen's film is in its native South Africa. Yes, the filmmakers—including producer Gary Wheeler, (The List) who has also become a director of some accomplishment over the last decade—were all Americans; but the cast (which also includes notable names such as David Lee, Vusi Kenene, Regardt Van Den Bergh, and Marius Weyers) is entirely African, and the film was shot entirely on location in and around Cape Town. When I interviewed Jan Ellis about the film in 2002, he remarked on how unique it was that Krusen and Wheeler invested what they did in making not an American film set in South Africa, but a film that truly represented the reality of a South African story.
The release of both Invictus and District 9 in 2009, along with the re-release of Final Solution on DVD, gives me pause. A pivotal bar-room conversation in Final Solution regarding the role of sports in forming national identity invokes the entire inspired-by-a-true-story plot of Invictus—and why is it that the central character of District 9, Van Der Merwe, bears the surname of the actress who portrays Celeste Wolfaardt in Final Solution Special Edition, largely set in a sequestered township like the fictional District 9? These three films would make for a fairly mind-blowing triple feature.
Sadly, the legacy of Final Solution is not entirely well-served by this 2-disc Special Edition. The new behind-the-scenes mini-feature and interviews are welcome additions, but the included documentary film about Wolfaardt, From One Blood, shows its age and technical inferiority as a companion film—powerful as its content and message might be. Krusen and Wheeler's commentary also confirms the narrative weakness of scenes involving the conclusion of Moremi's story.
Original Closing Was Better
The audio remix strikes me as muddier than the original as well, with foreground dialogue too often sinking into ambient noise and the (excellent) soundtrack; and the filmmakers' commentary would have been better off remixed. At the film's re-cut conclusion, in which closing scenes, sans dialogue, now re-run under the closing narration, the editorial decision becomes not only poor but obvious. The original ending—with Kani's pastor looking out upon his colorful parish under the closing narration—made better sense of the central militant's monologue about Jesus' skin color.
For pure cinema, I have to recommend the original 1-disc issue of Final Solution. For its fuller exposition of the whole story behind Final Solution and its filming, though, the 2-disc Final Solution Special Edition is a valuable document in the history of Christian filmmaking. Particularly for fans of Final Solution, the material on Disc 2 is worth having—and you can always take your original disc and swap it out for Disc 1!
Final Solution Special Edition is rated R for "scenes of violence." Much of the mayhem is indeed intense. Under adult supervision, however, the material is very much suitable even for pre-teen audiences, given the reality of apartheid and its correlates in the world today.
Courtesy of the film's distributor, Greg screened a promotional copy of the Final Solution Special Edition.
Also in the interests of full disclosure, in recent years Greg has consulted on scripts for Cris Krusen, including the just-completed The Bill Collector, and is developing a screenplay with Krusen for W. John MacGregor’s novel West of the Gospel, due to be published later this year.