There are few topics that will present a film with as daunting an underpinning as the Holocaust. It's a fair statement to suggest that it might be difficult to approach from a new angle or be able to say something that hasn't been stated in the many excellent films about it that have been done in the past half-century. But it's a topic that continues to resonate because of the lasting tragedy that it was and continues to be. Indeed, with the rise of fascism in many nations around the world at present, it's a story that almost demands to be told again; a story of unfathomable cruelty that begins with a simple assumption about people as 'others', rather than as humans. In this respect, The Survivor is another in the long list of those films that delivers that brutal message with hands both overt and subtle. Almost like a talented boxer, you might say.
In this case, the most obvious element of that was Harry boxing in the camps at the behest of an SS officer. In doing so, he was seen as "cooperating" with the scions of evil that were torturing him and everyone he knew because of their identity. But it was also a perfect example of a survivor's instinct (hence, the title.) Not only did he accept the path that was offered to him on behalf of his own lizard brain, as the first instinct of most when offered a route out of that hell would be to take it, but also because he was driven by the memory of his lover, Leah, and figured that the better the chance he stood of survival, the better the chance he would be reunited with her. Those are both quite self-oriented motivations. But as his friend, John, also suggests to him at one point, they can be seen as an expression of defiance all their own, in that not only would he not be killed at the hands of the butchers that treated him as something subhuman, but he would persist beyond all their efforts to treat him as something less than, so that he could return to at least some part of the life that had been normal before they arrived. In that respect, it was a personal statement that represented all those who came through the Nazi effort to exterminate them; that no matter how hard they tried, Harry and his people would survive. That SS officer suggests to Harry that it's a choice between being the hammer or the anvil, but the anvil always survives the attempts by the hammer to reshape it, even if it leaves marks in the process.
If you've been reading these for any stretch of time, you've probably come to understand that the storytelling approaches that most appeal to me are those that ask basic questions about humanity and how characters deal with those questions and the ripples that they leave, even in hammered steel. Definitely worth a watch.