Most Hollywood action movies would have you believe that revenge is a simple act. Someone wronged you, and, come Hell or high water, you're going to make them pay (typically with the help of your Navy Seal training and/or mobile armory). In reality, revenge is far more complex.
Some believe that revenge is morally justified, depending on the severity of the original transgression. In these cases, they would argue, equal retribution is the only fair form of justice. For example, a murderer deserves to be murdered.
Others believe that revenge is never morally justified, arguing that "two wrongs don't make a right." There's a reason that all the major religions teach to offer forgiveness, rather than seek vengeance. As Mahatma Gahndi once said, "An-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye ... ends in making everybody blind."
In his short film Dig, director Joshua Caldwell delves into this issue with compelling results. The short, which stars Aaron Himelstein and Emmy-nominated actor Mark Margolis (Hector "Tio" Salamanca from AMC's Breaking Bad), is about a young Jewish Holocaust survivor who, twenty years following his exodus from Europe, sees the Nazi responsible for his family's death, kidnaps him, and orders him to dig his own grave.
The film succeeds primarily on the strength of its two lead actors. Himelstein gives an excellent performance as David, the young man who watched his family die at the hands of a brutal Nazi. As a boy, he was too young to stop his family's massacre, so now, as a man, he seizes his opportunity to get justice.
But the Nazi stormtrooper of David's youth is not the same man as the one that ends up blind-folded in the back of his car. As Heinrich, the ex-Nazi, Mark Margolis is terrific. He doesn't beg for his life, nor is he repentant for his crimes, because he doesn't consider what he did to be criminal. As he explains, he was "only following orders." Now, he is just an old man with a wife and a family. What could killing him possibly bring to David?
Margolis gives the same understated performance that earned him an Emmy nomination as the mute Tio Salamanca on Breaking Bad. He makes no secret of his former life, but fails to express any remorse for it. He acts almost as if he has been preparing to dig this grave his whole life, and perhaps he has been.
One of the great strengths of Dig's screenplay is the way it not only explores the morality of revenge, but the psychological repercussions of murder. Heinrich warns David that killing him will weigh on him for a lifetime. Perhaps he can justify it to himself now, but the knowledge that he took someone else's life will always be there, haunting him.
I won't spoil whether David does end up killing Heinrich, as you should watch the film yourself to see, but I will make note of the stark cinematography by Paul Niccolls and the excellent score by Bill Brown. Both elements help to elevate Dig beyond most indie fare and set the tone for the film beautifully.
Dig has already made the festival route, appearing as an Official Selection of the 2011 Carmel Art & Film Festival, NewFilmmakers LA Series; the 2012 Durango Independent Film Festival; the Beverly Hills Film Festival; the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival; Dances With Films; the HollyShorts Film Festival; and the Action on Film International Film Festival. Dig also won the Silver Screen Award (Short Film competition) at the Nevada Film Festival.
Please let us know what you think of Dig in the comments.
If you're interested in connecting with the director of the film, check him out on Twitter: @Joshua_Caldwell.