“Not all opinions are equal, somethings happened” said Deborah Lipstadt, historian and professor of Holocaust studies in the film Denial (2016). During the film’s opening ceremony, one of the audience members asks Lipstadt for comments: “Somebody told me you don’t debate with people who say the Holocaust didn’t happen. Talking to people you don’t agree with, that’s democracy, isn’t? It’s cowardly not to talk to them.” In response, she remarked that people can have opinions about the Holocaust and argues about why it happened and how it happened. However, what she will not do is meet with anyone who says it did not happen because the Holocaust happened. She says, “That is not opinions, that is fact and I won’t debate fact.” This intense first scene reflects the theme of the film Denial.
The Holocaust is the genocide in which Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews during World War Ⅱ. Lipstadt argues that historical truth evidently exists, saying, “Slavery happened. The Black Death happened. The Earth is round and the ice cap is melting. Elvis is not alive.” Likewise, she asserts that the Holocaust actually took place and that is obvious fact, not opinion. As she said, she endeavored to prove that the Holocaust actually happened and defended the truth from the falsity of denying the existence of the Holocaust through “the trial of the century.” The film Denial based on the real-life legal battle strikes the blow for the truth and for the survivors of the dreadful historical event.
The film Denial shows us procedures for defending the truth amid doubting voices of “how can you prove that it actually took place?” People sometimes easily accept what others take for granted and believe it as a fact. However, if someone ask them to prove it with clear evidence and proof, it can be demanding and challenging work. In Denial, Deborah Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz) is confronted by David Irving (played by Timothy Spall), internationally known as one who claimed that the Holocaust never happened. She is faced with the difficult situation in which she must prove the existence of an event that most people think of as historical truth.
The setting of the film Denial dates back to 1994 in the U.K. where Irving filing a libel suit against Lipstadt for calling him a Holocaust denier and accusing him of falsifying history. Iriving intentionally sued her in the U.K. where there is no “Presumption of Innocence” and the burden of proof in libel cases rests with the defendant. Therefore, she has to prove the obvious historical fact that the Holocaust happened and Irving is real falsifier of history to prove the veracity of her statements and win the trial.
She is aware that the trial over the existence of Holocaust would affect the historical record and that people would remember the trial results. In this ludicrous situation in which significant historical fact is decided by a mere trial, she willingly bears the burden of proof and struggles to plead her case. Watching her attorney team back her up with legal strategy is one of the beauties of the film. As one of them says, “This case is happening to you but it is not about you,” it becomes clear it is not only her own battle she is fighting, but also the battles of all to defend the truth from an agitator who deliberately distorts and manipulates history. The trial becomes a must-win game not just for herself, but for the truth of history and on behalf of the Jewish victims exterminated by Nazi Germany.
The film shows that it requires tremendous effort and courage to defend the truth from lies through profound struggles for the truth. Also, it suggests that though people are given the rights to express their opinions freely, they cannot shrink from the responsibility of their distortions or defamations of character. In the press conference, Lipstadt said that though some people say the result of the trial will threaten the freedom of speech, she does not accept that, saying, “I am not attacking free speech. On the contrary, I have been defending the freedom of speech against someone who wanted to abuse it.” She said, “The freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want. What you cannot do is lie and expect not to be accountable for it.” The film Denial denies that lies can win when the truth lapses into silence, while criticizing the people who want to pervert the truth in the name of “freedom of speech.”It also implies that academics have a duty to stand up for the truth and people have to be passionate about the truth.