Lies and Illusions in “Jacob the Liar” byFrank Beyer
Jacob the Liar was a 1974 German film directedby Frank Beyer and produced by Herbert Ehler. The film starredVlastimil Brodsky as the main character playing the role of Jacob.The movie was first released on 22 December 1974 at GDR TV andsubsequently in April 1975 and October 1975 in GDR cinema and FRGrespectively (German Films 1). The film was originally shot in TheGerman language, though translated into other languages later on. Thefilm was based on the novel, Jacob the liar (German for Jakob derLugner). The discussion about the film will explore the themes oflies and illusion as used in the plot and characterization of thefilm.
The themes of lies and illusion are welldemonstrated in this film from the beginning to the end. The directorand the producer use the themes to show the Holocaust and the plightof the Jews and bringing out their rebellion towards Nazi’s rulefor the first time (Rock 23).
The lies and illusions are presented in theplot that revolves around the central character, a man called Jacob.He lived in the Poland Jewish Ghetto which was occupied by Germans(IMDB 1). One day he is caught wandering in the streets after thecurfew time, and he is taken in for questioning. In the Nazi policestation, he finds out the German police officer in charge alreadypassed out after drinking too much. In the office, he also finds aradio running, and he is able to listen to the news about theRussians army advance. Usually, no civilian was allowed to own radioin the Ghettos. Jacob is released from the station and goes backhome. He begins telling his friends that the soviet’s army wasnearby as per the news he heard on the German radio. None of hisfriends believed in him since they were sure no one went into theGerman’s police offices and came out alive. He, however, claims hehas a radio.
The theme of lies is seen when people flockedat Jacob’s place to ask for news about the happenings outsidePoland. Jacob makes up stories about the happenings, and this reallygives people hope that one day they will be liberated by the RedArmy. He later disclosed to his friend that he had no radio and wasonly making up stories about the news. His friend encourages him tocontinue with the stories since they gave people hope. Jacob is laterdeported with some other people to extermination camps.
The movie narrator gives Jacob the purpose ofgiving hope to the people through lies. His lies can only bejustified by the reader and the movie viewer if they are morallyupright or not. Jacob’s goal is clear to himself, “Hope must notbe allowed to fade away, and otherwise, they (Ghetto Jews) won’tsurvive” (Dueck 60). The narrator from this perspective is asurvivor of the Holocaust and knows much of what happened in the Nazicamps. He describes all the events as a real observer. There aredifferent events where the theme of lies and illusion has been usedin the movie.
After being arrested and overhearing theSoviets advance towards the ghetto was 300 miles away (at Bezanikatown) from the Nazi’s radio in the police station, Jacob had arenewed hope for the Jews in the ghetto (Jacobthe liar 1). He had rejuvenated hopethat the starved and anguished Polish Jews would be rescued from theNazi holocaust. The following day he discloses the good news to hiswork mate Mischa, as they were packing crates. Mischa is veryskeptical of the news and doesn’t believe any of it. Jacobtherefore, embellishes the story with a lie. He creates an illusionto Mischa that he heard the news from a secret radio he owns at hisplace and asks Mischa not to disclose the news to anyone.
Mischa agrees not to tell anyone, but this wasa short-lived promised. He lies. He goes forth and discloses the newsto his girlfriend Rosa Frankfurter and her family (Jacobthe liar 1). Rosa’s father, on theother hand, feels intimidated by the illusion of fear because he helda secret radio in his possession. This is another lie because heusually told the Nazi that he had no radio in his possession. Due tothe disturbing news, Rosa’s father is forced to destroy his radioout of fear of being caught by the Nazis.
Jacob’s lie spreads all over town like abushfire. His best friend Kowalski hears of the news and approachesJacob for the truth behind the news (German Films 1). Jacob agreesthat the story was the truth. By that time many people had believedin his story and had a renewed illusion and hope of redemption. Jacobis forced to make up more lies about the soviet’s advance towardstheir town so that he doesn’t kill the new hope held by thetownsfolk. The Jews had been despairing for so long, and their livesdepended on a hopeful journey to redemption. If Jacob disclosedfalsehood of his stories, many people would either commit suicide, ashis best friend Kowalski or out of depression and starvation. Hisstories had already brought a fall in suicide cases in town.
Another major lie that is seen in the movie isthe hiding of 8-year-old girl Lina by Jacob (Jacobthe liar 1). In this incident, theparents of Lina had been taken out of town and deported to Auschwitz2 years earlier. Lina’s father had accidentally worn a coat withoutthe Nazi’s yellow star to work and therefore, his family wasdeported leaving Lina alone. Jacob took the liberty of taking her inhis house and tended to her with the help of doctor Kirschbaum. Thistook place amid the ill health of Lina. Lina was suffering fromwhooping cough and was bedridden most of the time.
Doctor Kirschbaum has the mandate of tellingthe people that Jacob does not own a radio, but he keeps that tohimself (German Films 1). He is, therefore, lying to his consciousand the people of the town. He is also liable of hiding and tendingto a destitute daughter of deported parents. He has the mandate oftelling the authorities, but he does not do that. This is against theNazi law.
Jacob’s lies have some consequences. Theillusion his lies created on the people gave them hope of surviving,and this leads to the death of Herschel Schramm (Dueck 60). Herschelmotivated by the illusion of hope from the stories of Jacob told thepeople about the good news of Russian army closeness as they weretraveling in a boxcar towards a Nazi concentration camp. A Nazisentry on hearing this shot him dead.
In his bid to create more lies and illusionsfor the people he sneaks into the Nazi’s toilets to get newspapersthat had news on the Russian army (Jacobthe liar 1). He doesn’t any goodnews from them and, therefore, decides to confide the truth to hisfriend Kowalski. Kowalski reassures him of his support and the newhope he has created in people, although afterward he commits suicideby hanging himself.
In conclusion, the themes of lies and illusionsare the center stage of this movie. It is through the lies thatpeople are able to view life from the brighter perspective. They getthe hope to live. The Nazis had committed many atrocities and crueltyto them (Rosenberg 12). Jacob’s lies created the expected illusionneeded to support the people and rejuvenate their spirits.
Jacob the liar.FrankBeyer, PROGRESSFilm-Verleih, 1974, DVDUnited States
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Jacob the Liar (1974). IMDb. 2016. Web,Accessed 3 March, 2015, <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071688>
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