Harry Haft was known as “The Pride of Poland and the Survivor of Auschwitz” whenever he stepped into the boxing ring. In Barry Levinson’s drama The Survivor, the answers to how Haft survived the camps is both a remarkable and complicated story.
Starting in 1963 and jumping between Haft’s time in the concentration camps during WWII and his life afterwards, Levinson paints an enthralling portrait of survival where each brushstroke is steeped in grey. The story kicks into gear as Haft (Ben Foster), despite his current losing streak, is determined to book a match with star fighter Rocky Marciano. The fight itself is not as important to Levinson as the agonizing journey it took Haft to even reach that point. Still bearing the emotional and physical scars of Auschwitz, Haft is haunted by the things he had to do in and out of the ring, under the orders of a sadistic Nazi officer (Billy Magnussen), to survive.
Using the ring as a metaphor for the constant fight Haft endured, Levinson circumvents traditional boxing film tropes. Anchored by Fosters stunning turn as Haft, the muddy path the boxer travelled and the residual trauma afterward is fascinating to observe. While the film is unnecessarily bloated, the script lays symbolism on thick at times and certain relationships are developed better than others, Foster ensures one always understands Haft’s struggles even when those around him do not. The Survivor is a compelling examination of unimaginable choices one man had to make to survive Auschwitz.