Daily Archives: March 6, 2021

The Decent One (2014)

*. I think we’re all familiar with the stories about the psychopathic serial killer who lives next door. The neighbours, when interviewed will say he always seemed like a nice guy, perhaps not perfectly normal but just a bit odd in some ways. You would have never guessed . . .
*. The Decent One (Der Anständige) is basically a historical variation on this theme, being an epistolary biography of SS commander Heinrich Himmler and his family. It consists entirely of passages from a recently discovered trove of letters and diaries written by Himmler and his wife and daughter. They depict a thoroughly conventional bourgeois marriage (complete with mistress on the side). Himmler even insisted the letters be numbered. He was that kind of person.
*. The juxtaposition being made is between the private and the public Himmler, and you’re left to decide for yourself what the connection is between the two. A few years earler Peter Longerich had published a massive biography of Himmler whose basic conclusion was that the man had been absorbed into the uniform, suggesting an erasure of the line between public and private life. So that’s one way to go.
*. I don’t think Longerich had seen the letters used here but I don’t think it would have made much difference. Himmler doesn’t seem to have been that hard to figure out. In most ways he was a conventional prig. Even his affair is dull, expressed in the conventional language of romance. Meanwhile, I find men (and I know several) who call their wives “mother” or “mummy” to be, if I may be judgmental, weird.
*. What I came away with was a portrayal not so much of the banality of evil but the banality of the kind of life that provided the soil for that evil. Himmler the monster wasn’t the product of poverty or abuse, but of a solid middle-class upbringing. “Decency” was part of the class code. What it meant was keeping up appearances. So having a mistress, or running a death camp, was fine as long as you didn’t talk about it.
*. Apparently director Vanessa Lapa’s addition of sound effects to go with the silent film footage upset some people. It’s a subject that comes up in a lot of reviews. I didn’t know this had become such a bugbear for people who watch documentaries. I’d thought such a universal practice was pretty much taken for granted these days. Peter Jackson, for example, does it in They Shall Not Grow Old. What I find even more surprising in this is that I actually consider myself to be a purist in these matters and none of it bothers me.
*. Well, if such liberties upset you then consider yourself warned. I didn’t mind the sound, or anything much about the production. I didn’t, however, find The Decent One to be a revelation of anything, if there was anything much there to be revealed.