Nazi Movies

I see someone has already come out with a new Hitler Parody. This one is about the special election in Massachusetts to replace Ted Kennedy:

I saw the other day (redirected from I forget where) an interview with the director of the original movie, who is “pleased, nay, thrilled” about the development of this unique art form derived from his work.

I saw so many of these Hitler parodies that I finally Netflixed Downfall, the original movie from which the video is excerpted. It makes the third Nazi movie I’ve seen in the past several months.

Downfall (Der Untergang) came out in 2004. It’s the story of the Hitler’s last days, as seen, mostly, through the eyes of his personal secretary, Traudl Junge. I’d never heard her story before, but seeing it from her perspective was a great way to make the fall of the Third Reich accessible. I liked the movie. Bruno Ganz (whom I last saw in 2003’s excellent Luther) is excellent as Hitler. Due to its focal point, the movie really doesn’t go into the worst things about Hitler: converting a democratic state to a totalitarian dictatorship, starting a world war, and writing the book on genocide.

Instead, the movie teaches a different and well-timed lesson about Messianic political figures: don’t trust them. For someone like Hitler, it’s all about them. The scenes where Hitler casually writes off the German people, are particularly useful to those who put their trust in princes. He says, essentially, they deserve to be left to their fate–poverty, oppression, and the contempt of other nations–because they have proved themselves unworthy of his genius.

For all that, however, the most powerful scene for me was seeing Josef Goebbels’ wife methodically poison their six children. The Goebbels are real pieces of work: true believers, both of them, right to the end.

A more recent Nazi movie was 2008’s Valkyrie, the story of the 1944 plot to kill Hitler. Tom Cruise is Colonel von Stauffenberg–a role he pulls off with his characteristic intensity. He is joined by several familiar faces including Kenneth Branagh’s. This movie raises the moral question of when assassination is justified, although the characters come down on the “pro” side–at least when the subject is Hitler. It certainly argues for the principle that, as Emerson put it if you would strike at the king, you must kill him. And, perhaps more to the point, once you decide to kill him, you can’t lose sight of that as your primary objective. What happens when he’s dead must be secondary.

A final thought I had watching Valkyrie was how tame the Nazis were. I’m not saying they were good people, or that I’d like to live in a country they controlled. I certainly wouldn’t want to be questioned by the Gestapo. But they weren’t what one has come to expect. I would have expected more barbarism. Something like Uday Hussain and his (rumored?) wood-chipper, or perhaps Josef Mengele. Instead, the Nazis come across as, well, civilized in their inhumanity. Perhaps it’s different when the victims are Army officers. There may have been limits to the nastiness the Nazis thought they could get aways with, precisely because the loyalty of the Army was in question–after all, Stauffenberg and other key plotters were Army officers.

Finally, we come to last year’s Inglorious Basterds. It is a beautiful movie. Every shot is fantastic: the lighting, the sets, costumes, everything. Christopher Waltz (Colonel Landa), in particular, is simply amazing, and Diane Kruger (Bridget von Hammersmark) is nearly as good. The story, however, is not beautiful, nor even pretty. It is, simply, ugly.

The highest motives to be found even in the best characters are revenge, and the most common situation is betrayal. The climax is an orgy of violence, with fire and gunfire and explosions all presented in lovingly slow motion. Tarantino’s earlier Pulp Fiction was violent, but it had redemption and transformation. There are no character arcs here. Everyone finishes the movie as nasty as they began it. For all its scope, this is a small, mean, ugly movie.

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