“The Notebook”: Postwar Kids Will Say the Savagest Things

Sometimes children abide during times of darkness, and sometimes the darkness is so overwhelming they let it into their hearts as a means of survival. János Szász's The Notebook considers the latter. As World War II winds down and Hungarian cities become increasingly dangerous and desperate, a young mother (Gyöngyvér Bognár) drops her 13-year-old twin sons (András Gyémánt and László Gyémánt) off to live with their grandmother in the country. Her neighbors refer to her as “The Witch,” not for any mystical reasons, but because she's a deeply unpleasant person, and she wastes no time in abusing the twins. Recognizing that the weak perish first and that any kind of consistent morality in wartime is impossible (while blackmailing a priest, they call him out on the speciousness of the Ten Commandments), the twins hurt and starve themselves while desensitizing themselves to mercy, compassion, or any other human needs beyond basic, brutal survival. And, following the final orders from their father (Ulrich Mathes) before he went off to war, they carefully document their descent into inhumanity. The Notebook is dark and violent and never less than compelling, and could probably never be made in America due to its unsentimental view of children. Americans are, after all, the ones who nicknamed World War II “The Good War.”


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