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The Fuhrer stays in the picture.
September 9, 2002 8:29 AM   Subscribe

The Fuhrer stays in the picture. Max, a movie about Hitler's early years and his rise to power, premieres Monday at the Toronto Film Festival. The controversial project depicts the future dictator as an "emotionally poisoned man, but nonetheless human" rather than a simple caricature of evil, and owes its existence to the determination of star John Cusak (Noah Taylor of Shine plays Hitler) as well as its writer/director and producer. Many have already condemned the film, including Maureen Dowd (NYT link) and the Jewish Defense League. (Spielberg liked the script but bowed out early.) Is it possible, much less necessary, to portray the legendarily wicked as human beings without excusing their crimes?
posted by gottabefunky (70 comments total)

 
"This is not art! This is obscenity!" - and so the circle is complete, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:37 AM on September 9, 2002


Tough to comment without having actually seen the film, but then ignorance of the subject matter has never stopped me sticking my oar in before.
I think it's important to demonstrate to people that mass-murderers and evil dictators don't hatch out of pulsating, mucus-smeared spores on Satan's belly, but actually tend to have a personal history not too far from one's own. Critics are welcome to question the integrity of the film - the fact they can opine with impunity is one of the benefits of being in a civilised, democratic country. (I know someone's going to pick me up on 'civilised' and 'democratic' ^_^)
I hope Godwin is safely tucked away in his box...
posted by RokkitNite at 8:40 AM on September 9, 2002


Is it possible, much less necessary, to portray the legendarily wicked as human beings without excusing their crimes?

At the San Jose book signing for Orson Scott Card's latest Ender book, someone asked Mr. Card why it was that his villains were so sympathetic. He replied that it was important to understand that when we meet villains in the world, they'll be real, engaging, sympathetic people, not caricatures of evil.

How do you recognize a future Hitler if you can't see past the stupid little mustache?
posted by hob at 8:40 AM on September 9, 2002


I find it fascinating how unsettled people are at the suggestion that bad human beings might still be, or even have been, human beings. Even if we accept the idea that Hitler's atrocities removed his claim to humanity, this movie is depicting Hitler before he committed them. Throughout it, he had two arms, two legs, two eyes; he liked art and had a sense of humour; if you pricked him, he would have bled. The metaphysical question "at what point, then, did he lose his humanity?" is an interesting one. The JDL appears to suggest he never had it, which is even more interesting. Suppose one of us, twenty years from now, were to commit such terrible crimes. Does that mean we are already not human?
posted by ramakrishna at 8:43 AM on September 9, 2002


gbf: What a silly question. It's possible and necessary to portray the wicked as human, and as a corrolary, it's possible and necessary to portray the wicked as human without excusing their crimes. If we literally believe the evil are inhuman, it would be irrational to try to prevent evil. It's the fact that they're human like us that we can try to reason with them -- homo sapien, as they say -- and without that possibility, there's no hope of ever quelling evil. Finding and sharing the monstrousness we all possess is one of the many, many noble things art can do.
posted by blueshammer at 8:44 AM on September 9, 2002


Even before it has been seen, the film has set off an angry reaction among people who are offended by the very idea of a movie presenting a figure of such profound evil in human terms.

Because Hitler was a supernatural pixie, the like of which we'll never see again? Idiots.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:48 AM on September 9, 2002


And then, of course, there's the more obvious criticism that denying one's enemies' humanity is a necessary step to take if mass murder is to happen. Hitler looked at the Jews the way many Jews look at him (though they do have more justification in doing so).

RokkitNite: the great thing about a thread like this is Godwin's Law is meaningless with respect to it. Hitler is the topic of the thread, so we can mention him with impunity. Hitler Hitler Hitler Hitler Hitler Hitler and Hitler. :)
posted by ramakrishna at 8:48 AM on September 9, 2002


I think it's important to demonstrate to people that mass-murderers and evil dictators don't hatch out of pulsating, mucus-smeared spores on Satan's belly...

Since Rokkitnite said it about 5 billion times better than I ever could have, no need to repeat my paraphrase here. I'll only add that I'm glad to know about this movie and I definitely plan on seeing it, because I loves me some John Cusack.
posted by contessa at 8:49 AM on September 9, 2002


'Write me, O writer, a justification of Jew-baiting and death camps; put it in the invented mouth of an invented zealot; make it convince. The artist's pride; he must see if he can do it. What is the point of the dialectic of fiction or drama unless the evil is as cogent as the good?'

Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers

How do you recognize a future Hitler if you can't see past the stupid little mustache?


Exactly. Especially the potential Hitler inside each and every one of us. I mean, that lil' Anakin Skywalker, he was such a sweet little kiddy-wink...
posted by RokkitNite at 8:49 AM on September 9, 2002


blueshammer: agreed (rhetorical question). It's just seldom easy.

Any other examples of this sort of thing? Fictional accounts (film, books, etc) of evil in larval form?
posted by gottabefunky at 8:51 AM on September 9, 2002


"To say that Hitler was a mad man is to make a very serious mistake." -- Albert Speer

Speer ("Hitler's Architect") was interviewed regarding his complex and ambivalent relationship with Hitler many times during his life. On one occasion, when the interviewer asked how Speer could have served such a monster, Speer grew quite agitated and excitedly expressed his view, oft repeated, that Hitler was simply a normal man with extraordinary powers. He explained the importance of allowing Hitler to retain his humanity: if we believe that only monsters are capable of the things Hitler did and had done in his name, we learn nothing from him. Only by realizing our fellow man is capable of that sort of thing can we hope to guard against it in the future--after all, Hitler didn't rise to power by himself.
posted by KiloHeavy at 8:51 AM on September 9, 2002


Why does this strike me as The Last Temptation of Christ all over again? People condemning and protesting a film they haven't seen, and know almost nothing about.

KiloHeavy -- thanks for the info on Speer's feelings about Hitler. To not acknowledge the fact that he was a "just a man", yet thought up and commanded thousands to do unspeakable acts; we forget that unfortunately, there is a terrible capacity for evil that exists in the human race. Hitler wasn't the first, and unfortunately, I fear he won't be the last.

What can we learn about how he became so full of hate that can help us prevent the next Hitler from coming to power? Isn't that what this film is about?
posted by greengrl at 9:00 AM on September 9, 2002


It's springtime for Hitler and Germany!
posted by captain obvious at 9:06 AM on September 9, 2002


I personally cannot WAIT to see this film. It reminds me about the huffing and puffing in regards to Todd Solondz's Happiness for having the nerve to paint a very human picture of a pedophile. Dylan Baker's performance in that film is amazing and it was one of the first times I thought about the sick cosmic joke that befalls people with disgustingly unfortunate obsessions.

I am quite liberal, but why can't I stomach Maureen Dowd?
posted by McBain at 9:12 AM on September 9, 2002


Hmm if this film's controversial in the US, I wonder what you'd have made of UK sitcom Heil Honey I'm Home, where Adolf and Eva lived next door to a Jewish couple...
posted by malevolent at 9:21 AM on September 9, 2002


Jesus H. Christ... a few things to meditate upon.

To Jews, Hitler is the personification of evil. To Palestinians, Jews are the personification of evil.

There's a difference between justification and explanation.

Surviving victims of Alderaan and others in the Star Wars Universe would not flip out over Episodes 1, 2, and 3. There's enough ridicule in that to make it a nice Onion piece.
posted by freakystyley at 9:27 AM on September 9, 2002


I've often wondered why it's generally "not OK" (to put it mildly) to suggest people like Hitler, Charles Manson, or Josef Stalin were ever, at any time, human beings.

Hitler commissioned the creation of the VW Beetle. In theory, this can be called a good idea, presuming you like the car. But to say that Hitler had a good idea (commissioning the creation of the VW Bug) seems to be tantamount to declaring "Hitler was right to exterminate the Jews." Approval of one idea does not confer agreement to all.

I agree to the poster upstream that said that the backlash is most likely coming from people who haven't actually seen the movie.
posted by ethmar at 9:29 AM on September 9, 2002


It's interesting to look at the way generations approach the Hitler problem. The World War II generation and their children tended to see him as a benchmark of evil, outside normal human categories. Moreover, they saw any attempt to see him as human, or to make light of the Holocaust, as not just blasphemy but a potential green light to neo-Nazis and anti-semites. But for people in their 20s and 30s, that approach seems almost inexcusably obtuse and potentially dangerous - after all, Hitler was a person, and to understand him we have to approach him as a person. The same willingness to revisit once-hallowed tenets of Holocaust studies was evident in the Mirroring Evil show at the Jewish Museum in New York. On the one hand I'm all for it, but I'm also a bit worried about the younger generation's obliviousness to the reason's behind their parents' and grandparents' attitudes.
posted by risenc at 9:35 AM on September 9, 2002


Hhmmm ... the point seems to be that we have to see Hitler as human so we can more fully understand where such evil springs from, and learn from it - so as to not permit such things to happen in the future. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the case. Remember even during his rise to power, when some of his intentions were becoming known, there were a good number of European diplomats that thought we should engage in polite diplomacy with him - despite the fact that less than three months after he was elected leader of the Nazi Party (1933), he had already opened his first concentration camp. As late as 1938 (while Mussolini was already moving in Africa), Chamberlien was still trying to persuade Hitler to stop invading countries (he's just a human like you and me, after all).

Since then, all sorts of massacres have happened (anyone remember Rwanda?). The scale of those massacres is smaller than WW2, but this is primarily because the means available to the people engaged in them are more limited - not because their intentions were any less evil. Fact is, we seem to become aware of evil only in retrospect. All of our studies of WW2, and now a film serving the cause of "art" by helping us see Hitler as a just folks sort of fellow ... what exactly does it mean to "learn from mistakes"? Saddam Hussain has gassed his own people. Openly declared war against Israel, and "the Great Satan". Is doing everything in his power to get his hands on exactly the sorts of weapons that would permit massacres on exactly the same scale as Hitler - and what are we hearing from Europe and a lot of the US?

"Let's talk to him."

To anyone that wants to say that humanizing Hitler is some sort of valid, educational exercise that will somehow prevent future massacres from happening - I'd like to ask this: How?
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:41 AM on September 9, 2002


"Is doing everything in his power to get his hands on exactly the sorts of weapons that would permit massacres on exactly the same scale as Hitler (snip)"

Oh boy! I thought I'd never get to use this link!
posted by ethmar at 9:49 AM on September 9, 2002


risenc: I don't think that it's the approach that seems obtuse and dangerous, I think that it was just a long time ago. 'The WWII generation's approach to Hitler doesn't seem much different to the current approach to Osama Bin Laden et al.

MidasMulligan: I agree that the evil of an individual should not be measured purely by the magnitude of its effect. However, your argument seems somewhat self-contradictory - the reason that we see evil only in retrospect is because we refuse to consider good / evil as anything but black and white. Surely trying to find the reason (or cause) for evil will help us to recognise it (or its causes) ahead of time.
posted by daveg at 9:50 AM on September 9, 2002


To anyone that wants to say that humanizing Hitler is some sort of valid, educational exercise that will somehow prevent future massacres from happening - I'd like to ask this: How?

I find it interesting that just about every case of large-scale murder and child molestation is commited by people who are regarded as "nice folks, good neighbors". The assumption that the next atrocity will be committed by a swarthy freak with five nipples, no navel and a lisp is part of what lets these things happen on a regular basis.

Evil does not happen because we let monsters run loose, we let evil happen because the monsters are nice charming men, patriots who want what is best for our country, that shake your hand with a firm dry handshake, love babies, and push for laws that let you put food on your table. The evil he promotes will appear entirely reasonable in an atmosphere of unreasonable fear. After all, they are not really citizens or a part of our culture.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:02 AM on September 9, 2002


We all contain the capacity for great good and great evil. To claim that monsters like Hitler were (and are) inhuman is a cop-out that allows us to avoid uncomfortable questions.

In the wake of Sept. 11, I heard otherwise rational people proposing acts of vengeance against the Arab world that would have made Hitler look like a dilettante. Were those people inhuman monsters? No. At least not yet.

To prevent the rise of the "next Hitler," each of us must look in the mirror and decide not to be the next "good Nazi." Films like this one are one tool to help us do that.
posted by kewms at 10:06 AM on September 9, 2002


Don't forget, CBS is doing a four-part mini-series about Hitler's rise to power that's generated its own dust-cloud of controversy.
posted by dhartung at 10:08 AM on September 9, 2002


For anyone interested in just how the Germans themselves could have let Hitler come to power, there's a great new book out, called "Defying Hitler," by Sebastian Haffner. It's his memoirs, written in 1939 - so, after the Nazi takeover but before the brunt of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, he draws a great portrait of a population wooed into apathy and denial and finally repression by the Nazi party; at the same time, he pretty squarely blames his countrymen for not doing something. It's slightly off-topic, but I just finished the book and have been recommending it to everyone with even an inkling of interest in Nazi Germany.
posted by risenc at 10:16 AM on September 9, 2002


On the one hand I'm all for it, but I'm also a bit worried about the younger generation's obliviousness to the reason's [sic] behind their parents' and grandparents' attitudes.

I would hardly catagorize it as obliviousness, how about, "better equipped for detached observation"? Both my grandfathers fought in WW2 and being told about the holocaust was a big part of my education from school and family. But just as I won't dismiss pedophiles as monsters, neither will I dismiss Hitler. Describing him as some evil incarnate, however great fun it can be, makes it seem like there was no other possible path for his life to take. Would we be willing to say that about the Columbine killers? Were they any less "evil" because they only managed to massacre a dozen people rather than several million? Would they have stopped at a dozen given the power of Hitler? Something tells me the two of them might have been "saved" so to speak. Isn't it a "good thing" to believe that the power of love and understanding from fellow human beings could have "saved" Hitler?
posted by McBain at 10:16 AM on September 9, 2002


Sorry, I don't personally want to see Hitler's humanity, or plumb the depths of his soul, or, God forbid, try to understand what made him hate the Jews (et al). What good would this do? It's the same mentality that makes people say, "Sure, the events of 9/11 were bad, but..." Sorry, there is no "but" after murder and genocide. When you sanction the mass killing of races and types of people, you've lost your humanity status, you've lost any right to be understood, you've cashed in your "but..." chips.

I just wonder, why would anyone want to watch such a film? Aren't there legions of people who deserve the "humanizing" of a biopic (There's a joke if I ever heard one) more than Hitler? There are doubtless many books that do an intelligent, scholarly job charting Hitler's rise to power. Do we need a popcorn-muncher about the subject? A movie is utterly incapable of presenting such a complicated picture accurately and with magnitude. Please, folks, don't get your historical and philosophical education from the pictures.
posted by evanizer at 10:16 AM on September 9, 2002


The "Hitler is an evil monster, not a human" chant leads to a dangerous place where only monsters are capable of such acts.

And therefore, such acts become fiction. Like, you know, the existence of monsters.

Hitler must be treated like a real human being if we are to prevent genocide.
posted by falameufilho at 10:20 AM on September 9, 2002


I think that the problem with movies that portray evil people as human is that they tend to degenerate into a surge for "causes" i.e. what made Hitler like this, how could he have been influenced to became a nice fellow, etc. The fallacy in this kind of logic is that people tend to forget that at the end of the day, you choose to be, or not be, an immoral person. Factors influenced Hitler, but in the end, he chose to be a monster. It's sort of like Bin Laden's apologists. Much of their discussion is over things like "What did we do to make him do this?" But the fact is, no one forced him to kill all those people. It was his, and Hitler's choice. Talking about what "caused" Hitler to become evil ignores the idea of free will. Anyone can choose to be a Hitler, but not everyone does.
posted by unreason at 10:23 AM on September 9, 2002


Midas: To anyone that wants to say that humanizing Hitler is some sort of valid, educational exercise that will somehow prevent future massacres from happening - I'd like to ask this: How?

Midas- good questions. I think it's necessary to see Hitler's humanness to better understand his crimes. There is a tendency to label him simply "Evil," as if he were some kind of medeival forest spirit; it's much harder and more disturbing to try and understand him as a human being who made a series of selfish choices driven by his virulent racism and lust for power. To deny or avoid Hitler's humanness is, I think, an attempt to spare ourselves the knowledge that, given similar circumstances, we might do the same, which effectively spares Hitler some responsibility for his crimes.

Your comparison of Hitler to Hussein is unfortunate, and it's repetition in the media shows a real lack of imagination. Speaking of "learning from our mistakes," the U.S. certainly didn't learn from it's past mistakes when it supported this tin-pot tyrant in the 80's, and provided diplomatic cover when he committed those crimes (gassing of the Kurds) which are hilariously now used to justify an invasion. The means to democratization and modernization are, and have been, the U.S.'s to use, but we have a bad habit of enabling psychotic authoritarians (Suharto, Pinochet, Hussein, Noriega) to murder their own populations, and a worse habit of acting surprised when they come back to bite on the arse.

I also think it's wrong to characterize the Iraq debate as simply two-sided: Stop Hitler Jr. vs. Let's Talk to Him. I think you know that the opposition to invasion is a little more nuanced than that.

evanizer: When you sanction the mass killing of races and types of people, you've lost your humanity status, you've lost any right to be understood, you've cashed in your "but..." chips.

Careful, you're denying the humanity of a few U.S. presidents and at least one U.S. Secretary of State there.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:24 AM on September 9, 2002


Get your own blog, fuckwit.

What good would this do?

Then I guess criminal psychologists all over the world should just go into software or something. Just because the scope of Hitler's crimes was unimaginable before hand, shouldn't mean he is off limits. If we don't try to understand why people take drugs, rape, murder, steal, etc... are we ever going to be able to create environment that makes people not feel the need to do these things. So often people feel the need to say, "Yes the crime is bad, but..." because without the qualification people get accused of sympathy. Empathy and sympathy are different. Wanting to rethink our attitudes towards the Middle East and outrage over the events of 9/11 aren't mutually exclusive.

Aren't there legions of people who deserve the "humanizing" of a biopic (There's a joke if I ever heard one) more than Hitler?

A biopic (if that is what this is, which from the descriptions I have read is debatable) isn't some award you get for being a good person. Biographies are done for compelling subjects. Not all movies are happy popcorn flicks. Many of us do go to the movies to learn something. America seems to think Hannibal Lecter is great fun, god forbid they should go see a movie about a real person.

A movie is utterly incapable of presenting such a complicated picture accurately and with magnitude.

I disagree. There are a hundreds of powerful works of film from Errol Morris to Orson Welles.
posted by McBain at 10:34 AM on September 9, 2002


Get your own blog...(snip)"

During the play (hand signal), personal foul, unnecessary roughness, 10 yard penalty, automatic (hand motion) first down.
posted by ethmar at 10:47 AM on September 9, 2002


Sorry, I don't personally want to see Hitler's humanity, or plumb the depths of his soul, or, God forbid, try to understand what made him hate the Jews (et al)

Then don't watch the freaking movie. I, personally, would like to do all of those things. Psychologists call this phenomenon "different strokes for different folks."

... Say, can anybody lend me their copy of Paradise Lost?

Trick question! I don't want to read that book, because what could I possibly learn from a story that makes Satan a sympathetic character?
posted by Hildago at 10:54 AM on September 9, 2002


I know I don't have to explain to anyone the difference between "doing well" and "doing good," the difference between "making the right move" and "doing the right thing." Hitler is interesting because he made so many of the right moves while doing so many of the wrong things. We laud the charisma, charm, public-speaking ability of a Roosevelt, a Kennedy, and we don't necessarily stop to think: What if those powers were put to use for evil, rather than for good? Would you recognize it if it were?

At a time when there is increasing pressure to see things in terms of "what works" and "what will get the job done" rather than "what is right," it behooves us to look at history's examples of leaders who confused the two and convinced other to do the same.
posted by hob at 10:55 AM on September 9, 2002


How timely. I just finished reading this (via Memepool) a few minutes ago. I don't agree with all of his conclusions, but I found this passage insightful:

"As long as we are taught that genocide is something that can only be committed by a demonic "other", that we are good people and the desire to commit genocide could never come to us, we will perpetuate genocide, for it is precisely (as Santayana said) those who deny who perpetuate the evils and disasters of the past. "

Hitler was obviously on the extreme end of the continuum, but a monster, as in "beyond the scope of possible human behavior"? No, not at all, sadly.
posted by tyro urge at 10:56 AM on September 9, 2002


I have to agree with HOB...Hitler was a psycotic mad man but for all that he WAS human and not a "caricature" of evil. Most of what we learn in school is carefuly constructed propaganda to 1)make him (hitler)seem to sprout out of the ground for the sole purpose of killing jews 2) put the US and allies in the best light as saviours of the world. Its important to remember that it was his own countrymens xenophobia that allowed him to make the jews his scapegoat and the issue of jewish extermination was only brought to light to make our entry into europes war a moral imparative. I for one look forward to seeing this someday to put the whole time into perspective
posted by hoopyfrood at 10:57 AM on September 9, 2002


I dunno, ethmar. I think "Get your own Blog, etc!" is in the process of becoming a MeFi catch phrase. Can you call a PF for a catch phrase? Does anyone know its provenance?
posted by mojohand at 10:59 AM on September 9, 2002


the reason that we see evil only in retrospect is because we refuse to consider good / evil as anything but black and white. Surely trying to find the reason (or cause) for evil will help us to recognise it (or its causes) ahead of time

My point was ... understanding it has never helped in the past. Prior to most of the world's worst evil, the perpetrators were being engaged in conversation, had all sorts of civilized folks not seeing them in black-and-white terms, but rather trying to "understand" them. This generally always had the same effect: It gave them more time to acquire what they needed to greatly extend the scale of the evil they eventually unleashed.

Oh boy! I thought I'd never get to use this link!

Goodness - there's plenty of opportunities on MeFi. Is that link, then, supposed to refute something? Does it mean Saddam Hussain has not gassed his own citizens? That he is not attempting to acquire nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons? That he would not use them if he could?

Even further - are you implying that there is moral equivilancy between the US and Iraq? That one is really no different than the other? By the same logic, and with a couple of pithy little anecdotes, it would be easy to prove that there was moral equivilancy between Chamberlien's England and Hitler's Germany.

This is the point I was trying to make (thank you for illustrating it so starkly). There's a good chance the the current world will equivocate on Hussain - until he manages to perpetrate some horrendous act. Then he will be evil. Then we will be shaking our heads and wondering how we didn't see it coming. Anyone that calls him evil now, however, or attempts to take steps now, will be branded a war-monger who is really no better than Saddam, who should be pursuing appeasement, and who shouldn't be seeing things in terms of black and white.
posted by MidasMulligan at 10:59 AM on September 9, 2002


During the play (hand signal), personal foul, unnecessary roughness, 10 yard penalty, automatic (hand motion) first down.

Sorry, was repeating Evan's response to an earlier thread he didn't like.
posted by McBain at 11:00 AM on September 9, 2002


Or perhaps the problem is in focusing on one person to represent a complex of groups and forces. Rwanda, you may recall, was a genocide of group upon group, instigated by a smaller group with no central figure on whom to hang a face and name as focus of evil.

Hitler was a charismatic speaker who lead a modern industrial state. Between the cult of personality and his demonization in wartime western propaganda, he's an icon of evil, a monster, something wholly other to human. Perhaps so. To say he alone was responsible for all that happened under his name--many hands were involved. There were thousands of little Hitlers along the way who helped actively or merely by looking away.

But to focus on this has no propaganda value in mobilizing mass opinion, so we are treated with the icon of the evil genius beyond all humanity. To suggest that ordinary people can perform atrocities muddies the picture, causes individual introspection and does not promote mindless adherence and unquestioned obedience in wartime .

No one wants to be told we are all potential little Hitlers. Evil? It's always the other guy off there in the distance. Except in Rwanda or Bosnia, when it's your neighbor. To reify evil into the person of one human being and avoid examining why ordinary people can perform monstrous acts is all too human mistake with no apparent lasting lesson.

Being possessed of godlike power over others certainly does not bring out the best in people--witness the rise and fall of Jim Jones. Hitler and Jones had no slave standing behind them to remind the Caesars they were not gods. But do monsters start out as monsters or do men become monsters when possessed of imperial powers unchecked by law and other centers of power? In a modern democracy, individuals are too marginalized to become those other centers of power merely in questioning authority. But it never hurts to ask questions or to remind nascent Caesars they are not gods. So, I ask why not?

Certainly, putting words in the mouths of others and then tilting at an ideological windmill of one's own device to no apparent point is another mistake from which we never seem to learn.
posted by y2karl at 11:01 AM on September 9, 2002


And a personal foul is 15 yards.
posted by McBain at 11:02 AM on September 9, 2002


Why are we flipping out here? Jeez, it's quite simple. Hitler was just some guy who eventually did some very bad things. The movie's just a movie about some guy who eventually does some very bad things. So where's the debate!?
posted by freakystyley at 11:02 AM on September 9, 2002


JDL: To humanize Hitler makes a mockery of the 12 million

I'm really confused by that. Are we all supposed to be going 'Ha-ha, you got killed by a human'?
posted by robself at 11:03 AM on September 9, 2002


To anyone that wants to say that humanizing Hitler is some sort of valid, educational exercise that will somehow prevent future massacres from happening - I'd like to ask this: How?

I don't think this is the point. It's not a special on the "Discovery channel". It is simply a film about an iconoclastic figure of the twentieth century, who also happened to be a genocidal maniac. I think the reason people are so up in arms is that, unlike other historical villains, Many of his victims are still among us. If this film were made 50 years from now, I doubt it would incur quite as much negative press.

That being said, I don't believe any amount of "humanizing" will ever make A.H. a sympathetic character; pathetic maybe (his failure as an artist, small stature, etc..) but not sympathetic. So what's everyone so worried about?
posted by buz46 at 11:10 AM on September 9, 2002


Midas, my referenced link was meant to point out that if the cornerstone of your argument re: Iraq is that Saddam Hussein is manufacturing chemical weapons, with intent to use them, then the US is clearly in the same boat (see link).

Re: Moral equivalency between countries, I leave that to the philosophers. However, if you are saying that the intent to manufacture, possess, or use chemical/biological weapons is "evil", and must be stopped pre-emptively, surely the US must be held to this same standard?
posted by ethmar at 11:12 AM on September 9, 2002


Vigilante 'refereeing' by uncertified telepath with potential personal agenda: reminder that no one appointed you God--Ejection from game.
posted by y2karl at 11:15 AM on September 9, 2002


I'm calling a Self Referentiality Penalty on the "Referee" meme and demanding that it go talk to itself somewhere off the field of play.
posted by hob at 11:23 AM on September 9, 2002


Anyone that calls him evil now, however, or attempts to take steps now, will be branded a war-monger who is really no better than Saddam, who should be pursuing appeasement, and who shouldn't be seeing things in terms of black and white.

Midas, this is pure drama. I call Saddam evil now, I think steps should be taken now, and I am certainly against appeasement. As yet, I haven't labeled myself a warmonger. As I wrote before, the Hitler/Chamberlain comparison, while probably comforting, is oversimplified, and leads to simplistic conclusions. In Hussein's case it's being used to justify a predetermined course of action.
posted by Ty Webb at 11:24 AM on September 9, 2002


MaBain: Sorry, didn't know about the earlier reference.

Re: Self-referentiality penalty, eh???

::: scratching head :::
posted by ethmar at 11:31 AM on September 9, 2002


...a popcorn-muncher about the subject?

evan, it does not look like a Bruckheimer production.
the director is quoting -- pretty well, I might add -- Walter Bejamin & the Futurism/Mussolini link. I'm curious, it sounds like an intelligent movie -- maybe flawed, but I'm not offended. It's the old Rosenbaum debate: "here's a pic of Hitler as a baby..."
btw: I agree, learning history at the movies is wrong.
but it's also wrong, say, for a teenager, to learn about sex watching porn movies, or learn about ethics listening to gangsta rap.
I'm easily offended when it comes to the Holocaust -- the whole "there's no business like Shoah business" is unfortunately true -- I'm not even a fan of Schindler's List and I didn't like Life is Beautiful one bit ( I'm a Nuit et Brouillard kinda guy, evan, the Holocaust requires that kind of purity in a movie)
But: I don't want to ignore the pre-1933 Hitler as historical figure. I've read about the guy.
I just hate the Dowd attitude -- "I've not seen therefore I hate it".
And, mindless violence as entertainment in the movies troubles me more than this movie's premise.
posted by matteo at 11:53 AM on September 9, 2002


Of course, the problem with using labels like "evil" or "inhuman" to describe the Hitlers or Husseins of the world is that it justifies any action taken in opposition to that evil while ignoring its cause. As Cusack points out in the Salon interview, "in the short run, it's a great way to rally the troops, but beyond that it doesn't get you very far."

We can try to understand Hitler without accepting what he did, what he chose to become. His actions were inexcusable, unspeakable, but they were most definitely human. To deny this, and to think of evil as some easily recognizable abstract with a silly mustache and a loud voice, may indeed be comforting, but it isn't very productive. We do ourselves a great disservice if we don't recognize just how easily each of us could become Hitler, or one of his thousands of willing followers. This new film does not appear to be an apologia, or an attempt to say that, because Hitler was a man the Holocaust was not his fault.

In trying to understand evil and humanize evil men, therefore, we are attempting to prevent atrocities like Hitler's from ever happening again.
posted by UnReality at 12:01 PM on September 9, 2002


It could be possible that they have made the film because the script was really great and they believed that they could make a great piece of art out of it.

Or maybe the boys in marketing thought the controversial angle would be a great way to get many potential customers talking about it before it was even released.

Maybe a person leaves the movie even more horrified at Hitler's crimes. Maybe a person leaves the movie wanting to go out and join the Nazi party. Maybe a person falls asleep halfway through because it is dull and awful.

Who knows? Has anyone at MeFi seen the movie? Is anyone able to judge the movie's effect and impact without seeing it?
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:02 PM on September 9, 2002


I didn't like Life is Beautiful one bit

My initial reaction to Life is Beautiful was pretty negative, but former Entertainment Weekly critic Mike D'Angelo wrote one of the most interesting criticisms I have ever read about any movie in his defense of the film.
posted by McBain at 12:14 PM on September 9, 2002


For the record, the Jewish Defense League is a militant extremist organisation. Their statements and opinions are about as credible as those of your average neo-Nazi group.
posted by Optamystic at 12:26 PM on September 9, 2002


And my apologies for getting confused on the the who and what of the whole annoying refereee thing...
posted by y2karl at 12:54 PM on September 9, 2002


New to MF, hoping this post ends up in an appropriate place, and to complicate the picture anyhow: Williams College Museum of Art has a stunning exhibition on Nazi art. Some of AH's work is of course displayed. The point is to explore the relationship of a strong esthetic (high, middle, low, whatever) to the kind of human evil under consideration here. Highly recommended.
posted by rasputin400 at 1:00 PM on September 9, 2002


I don't see any signs of Hitler having a successful image makeover (June, 2003 People Magazine - "Hitler! Why We Love Him!"), so I don't think there's much point to all this protest.

MidasMul - Plenty of evidence can be thrown together that shows the US as developing biological weapons, gassing its own soldiers, slaughtering the innocent, etc. No, I'm not saying that the US is the moral equivalent of Iraq. Just that these types of arguments are shaky, which is why we need more than that to justify a war.
Hitler took over almost all of Europe before the US got involved. Saddam got beaten back from Kuwait a decade ago and hasn't left his borders since. I don't see any equivalence there with reagrds to the US's action/inaction. Just because we were too slow in Europe doesn't mean we have to be trigger-happy in another, completely different situation.
posted by adameft at 1:07 PM on September 9, 2002


which is why we need more than that to justify a war

Here's an interesting story re: first invasion of Iraq from the Christian Science Monitor. Looks like previous justification wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
posted by ethmar at 1:23 PM on September 9, 2002


Williams College Museum of Art has a stunning exhibition on Nazi art. Some of AH's work is of course displayed.

here's the link to the exhibition "Prelude to a Nightmare: Art, Politics, and Hitler's Early Years in Vienna 1906-1913." Thanks.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:28 PM on September 9, 2002


But do monsters start out as monsters or do men become monsters when possessed of imperial powers unchecked by law and other centers of power? In a modern democracy, individuals are too marginalized to become those other centers of power merely in questioning authority

Hitler rose to power in a modern democracy. In fact, if Germany had had a first-past-the-post system instead of proportional representation he would have come to power earlier. As it was he took advantage of a power-sharing situation. IIRC he had quite a few political oponents killed. Democracy is certainly no guard against maniacs in a climate of fear and instability. They simply change the law.

Although Hitler was very human I think you can push the 'he was just like us really' thing too far (the film may not do this, I'll have to wait till it comes out). In another age and another place he would just have been your average sad little hate monger - distributing leaflets, making speeches in empty halls, throwing bricks through windows. These people always exist but they're quite rare. He would have been on the fringes of society, ridiculed for his simplistic, aggressive, ridiculous points of view, stupid moustache and poor personal hygiene. The people who voted for him - now they were the ones who really were just like us.
posted by Summer at 1:38 PM on September 9, 2002


unreason put it much better than I did.
posted by evanizer at 1:48 PM on September 9, 2002


Some of us don't believe in free will.

On a not so snarky note, cause and influence are different. And there is no reason for us not try to find competing influences in the name of preventing an outcome.
posted by McBain at 1:53 PM on September 9, 2002


unreason: The fallacy in this kind of logic is that people tend to forget that at the end of the day, you choose to be, or not be, an immoral person.

Nobody chooses to be an immoral person; nobody decides to be evil. The relevant question is, "How must Hitler have seen the world, so that genocide looked like the right choice?"
posted by hob at 3:35 PM on September 9, 2002


Midas, this is pure drama. I call Saddam evil now, I think steps should be taken now, and I am certainly against appeasement. As yet, I haven't labeled myself a warmonger. As I wrote before, the Hitler/Chamberlain comparison, while probably comforting, is oversimplified, and leads to simplistic conclusions. In Hussein's case it's being used to justify a predetermined course of action.

Not really pure drama. But there is a difference between the actual discussions going on among those that have to deal with Hussain, and communicating with the public. Most politicians - matters not whether they're left or right - understand at this point that you cannot attempt highly nuanced arguments when dealing with mass communications. It simply doesn't work. And despite the fact that people seem to think Bush has power - power in a democracy is quite a different thing than it is in (oh, let's say) Iraq. Bush needs significant buy-in before he can do anything ... buy-in from his own people, from the American people, and to some degree from parts of the rest of the world.

The discussions between the military and intelligence folks are likely to be highly nuanced - they know the players, and the wide variety of possible outcomes to various types of actions. They may well be aware of threats that simply cannot be made public without disclosing the sources of information. If a pre-emptive strike is the correct course ... do you get widespread support by writing long articles explaining the nuances of the byzantine corridors of middle east politics (which very few middle easterners will even claim to fully understand)? No - public communication has to reduce to very simplistic, black and white terms. But that doesn't mean nuanced thinking is not going on.

It might also be well to mention, another point - as regards "Re: Moral equivalency between countries, I leave that to the philosophers. However, if you are saying that the intent to manufacture, possess, or use chemical/biological weapons is "evil", and must be stopped pre-emptively, surely the US must be held to this same standard?"

There are no standards. There are not a nice set of rules that everyone plays by. We shouldn't, perhaps, forget that Saddam called the US "the Great Satan" long before Bush branded him as evil. That Saddam Hussain doesn't need to get buy-in from anyone prior to using force. He cannot be voted out of office. If you think we should all be held to the same standards - I'd invite you to reflect upon the likely fate of that Village Voice journalist in your link (and indeed, of the Village Voice itself) had he published a similar article in Iraq, about weapons Hussain was developing, with an anti-government attitude.

Simply because the US has nuclear weapons does not mean that to be "fair" it should be fine for Saddam Hussain to have them. In fact, a number of countries have nuclear and chemical weapons. China, for instance, is a nuclear power. But very people believe that China would actually use them unless they were first attacked with them. The same cannot be said for Saddam.
posted by MidasMulligan at 3:53 PM on September 9, 2002


Most politicians - matters not whether they're left or right - understand at this point that you cannot attempt highly nuanced arguments when dealing with mass communications. It simply doesn't work.

Understood, but there is a difference between simplifying one's argument to garner democratic support and relying on emotionally resonant historical comparisons (such as Chamberlain/Hitler) to silence opposition. Admittedly, that line may be a thin one, but my main point was that this is not simply a question of appeasement vs. invasion, which is how you seemed to frame it.
posted by Ty Webb at 4:25 PM on September 9, 2002


Interesting that the discussion has been transformed from an article about a movie that aviods the cliche (mined by our culture repeatedly from The Little Dictator to The Boys From Brazil) that an evil person must be visably evil to yet another argument regarding Saddam Hussein.

I will grant that there is not moral equivalency. I don't think that we can really compare the monsters there and the monsters in our current administration other than to point out that they are both monsters. If it is right to attack Iraq then it is a case that the broken moral clockwork of the Bush Administration is right at least some of the time. Meanwhile, the Administration is stocked with people who broke the law to fund Central American terrorists and our allies in Afghanistan evidently packed thousands to die in cargo containers. I don't have the wisdom to perform the kinds of moral calculus to say that our "freedom fighters" are doing good while they are doing bad.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:55 PM on September 9, 2002


gottabefunky: Any other examples of this sort of thing? Fictional accounts (film, books, etc) of evil in larval form?

Plenty! I recall the classic pop psychology texts I had to read in high school including "The Bad Seed", or even an Isaac Asimov- edited anthology of sci-fi/fantasy called "Young Monsters" that had a short story involving a young boy playing in the woods who we realize in the end is the young Adolph Hitler. There are lots of "evil children" books and movies out there, too many to name, really.

adameft: I don't see any signs of Hitler having a successful image makeover (June, 2003 People Magazine - "Hitler! Why We Love Him!")

Well, realistically, I think the actual People headline would be more along the lines of the oft-used "Hitler: It's his world, we're just living in it!" Which, come to think of it...

evanizer: unreason put it much better than I did

A shock and surprise to no one, really.
posted by hincandenza at 5:06 PM on September 9, 2002


Whatever, kiddo.
posted by evanizer at 5:22 PM on September 9, 2002


I am of the opinion that morality does not exist independently of man. it is fallible, subject to change, and subjective. one does not have to agree with this. however, one must agree that there are many different interpretations of what morality is. for example, while many americans are upset or even offended at a perceived lack of women's rights in the middle east, many middle eastern women are of the opinion that it is our lack of piety that is going to eventually bite us in the ass. almost a year ago, a group of people so strongly believed in their moral convictions that they saw it fit to hijack several airplanes and fly them into some very tall buildings. subsequently americans now are very convinced that the hijackers were wrong and seek some sort of revenge that I can't quite figure out. that's just the way things work.

the point is that morality is interpreted. as such, I can hardly find it rational to proclaim any one particular moral code as 'good' and 'right' when there is no way to prove which moral code is better or more good or more right than any other moral code. we can only face the facts. the fact was that hitler was a man, and not a demon or palestinian. the fact is that hitler was not born in 1938. he ate dinner. he had a dog. he made love to his girlfriend. there were things he liked to do. does this eclipse what he was later to do? of course not. these fragments of his life are merely part of the puzzle. so for those of you wondering why hitler had to have a life at all, will you please join us all in the real world? revolution and mass genocide for (perceived) egalitarian ideas did not start in 1936 and will most likely not end any time soon. as a matter of fact, america is partaking right now.
posted by Espoo2 at 5:45 PM on September 9, 2002


Is it possible, much less necessary, to portray the legendarily wicked as human beings without excusing their crimes?

Sure.

Quite frankly, the fact that Hitler was as human as the rest of us is one of the scariest things about him if you think about it.
posted by jonmc at 9:15 PM on September 9, 2002


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