Drawn from real events, Resistance tells the story of Elise, a patient who sweeps the institution. She doesn’t speak and staff assume she does not comprehend; but she watches. She watches buses filled with patients leave and return empty. When it’s her turn, she knows what’s in store. Incarcerated it appears there is little she can do. But Elise will resist, in the only way she can.
The character of Elise Blick (played by Lou Birks) was inspired by a brief account in By Trust Betrayed by Hugh Gregory Gallagher of a woman, recorded only as ‘EB’, who made her bid for escape. Other characters emerged from snippets of information and anecdote, photographs at the killing centres and contemporary disabled people.
The biggest challenge for Writer-Director Liz Crow in writing the script was how to go beyond the historical logistics of Aktion T4, to make the audience feel. The visit to the killing centres was crucial to discovering the emotional truth of the history. Photographs of disabled people murdered by the Nazis were displayed on the walls of the crematorium and took the victims beyond statistics into flesh and blood.
As producer Lou Birks says: “This only happened seventy years ago and the personal stories that we heard and the photographs of the people that we saw looked like you and me.”
The script also drew on improvisation sessions with actors. Amelie’s experience during selection on the ward came directly from an improvisation where a blind actor was uncertain whether she had been selected and her response shook to the core everyone assembled. It became a must for the script.
Holocaust research revealed the pattern of inmates’ days, including the importance of food, which was often a topic used by concentration camp inmates for distraction and survival. In Resistance,the inmates’ reminisce and dream of a banquet, contrasting sharply with their conditions of starvation, privation and threat. This scene introduces the inmates, reveals their relationships with each other and hints at their dreams and fears.
Food plays a part too, in the staff celebrations to mark the dispatch of their 1000th inmate to the killing centres. The comfortable lives of the staff are played off against those of the inmates.
Defining the story is ordinariness of people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. The staff are striking in their ordinariness - ignorant, cowardly, self-interested but not, for the most part, evil, just like so many of the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Crucial to their involvement in Aktion T4 is their belief in the inmates as ‘other’: separate and dispensable.
The orderly is the one exception; his bigotry and callousness define him. In contrast, the Medical Director is acting on conviction, his apparent reasonableness making him a chilling character. He is cocooned by bureaucracy and efficiency; his selection of inmates for ‘dispatch’ is casual. The nurse is the one member of staff harbouring doubts, without yet finding courage or tactics to take action.
In Resistance, it is the inmates who represent ‘normality’ and the staff who live in a twisted world. Whilst Aktion T4 was supposed to be a secret, the inmates know what lies ahead. Despite or in spite of this, they carve out a kind of existence, supporting each other, forging alliances and searching for survival strategies. Each time the staff enter the inmates’ space, they destroy the inmates’ order creating chaos.
The staff are nameless, whereas in the script all the inmates have names. Liz say; “A lot is known about the major perpetrators of Aktion T4 (even though few were held accountable), but most disabled people remain unknown. I wanted to turn the tables and give individuality and identity, life to the victims. Historically, they were labelled as defective, dead ballast and useless eaters. In the film it is their humanity that shines through.”
If AktionT4 is a history that has hardly been told the fact that disabled people resisted is scarcely recorded at all. Yet in that most hopeless of circumstances it happened.
Elise’s resistance is at the core of the film, her watchful, unspoken appraisal of what is in store and her canniness in plotting an escape. But Resistance is also the woman who hums a nursery rhyme for courage, the man who fights back, the woman who shouts “No’ with body and soul and the man who tries to make himself invisible. In Aktion T4, it was disabled people’s acts of resistance that communicated the injustice to a wider world until that world had to take notice.
Dramatising such a subject matter was no easy task. “It took me three days to commit anything of the orderly’s speech to paper”, explains Liz, “because I couldn’t bear those words to come from my pen.” She turned to ‘tasteless eulogies’ from the internet for help to remove the block.