Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was a famous thinker and philosopher whose diverse and oftentimes controversial writings explore issues that are still of great importance during our times: refugees, violence, power, anti-Semitism, pluralism, and the dynamics of totalitarianism. Writer and director Ada Ushpiz uses archival footage and images of executions, Hitler addressing his followers, and refugees escaping the ravages of war. She also interviews scholars, friends, and critics of this remarkable woman who even as a child was feisty and opinionated.
Part of this focused documentary deals with Arendt's article "Eichmann in Jerusalem," printed in The New Yorker in 1963. It was there that she wrote about "the banality of evil." Whereas Jewish survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust emphasized the monstrosity of this high-ranking Nazi, Arendt described him as a clown and an unthinking cog in the machine of murder. She was vilified and attacked by the American Jewish community as anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, and a traitor to the Jews all over the world.
Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt covers other important aspects of her life and intellectual activism. She had an affair with the philosopher Martin Heidegger who collaborated with the Nazis and was a mouthpiece for their malevolent and racist politics. Arendt also had high regard for philosopher Karl Jaspers; many thought he served as a surrogate father for the writer whose dad died when she was very young.
Perhaps the most relevant topic is this articulate philosopher's thoughts on refugees. Arendt lamented the large number of people made homeless by totalitarian regimes and civil wars. These people were not only stateless but also "rightsless" as they made their way from one place to another in hopes of starting a new life. Now millions of their brothers and sisters are facing hatred, inhospitality, and persecution in Europe and the United States.
Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt reveals both the beauty and the promise of diversity and true freedom.