Daily Archives: November 12, 2022

The Meaning of Hitler (2020)

*. There’s no end to the books about Hitler. Or movies about him. One of the people interviewed in this documentary is the curator of the Berlin Bunker Museum (that would be Hitler’s bunker), and as he puts it: “If you switch on German TV you have a 95% chance to get a Hitler documentary . . . [like] the Ten Things You Didn’t Know about Hitler, and it’s always ten things you already know about Hitler.”
*. Given all of this, and the fact that The Meaning of Hitler is based on a book by Sebastian Haffner (a pseudonym for Raimund Pretzel) published in 1978, you’d think it wouldn’t have much new to say. You might also be wondering why Martin Amis is given so much screen time as one of the talking heads, since I don’t think he knows anything more about Hitler than I do.
*. These are questions that don’t have great answers. There are answers, ways that the directors Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker try to keep it fresh, but they’re not great.
*. The first answer has to do with a connection made between Hitler and Donald Trump. To my eyes, the resemblances pointed out are superficial and not all that telling. The two have little in common in terms of their personality, psychology, or motivations. Nor is the label of fascism all that useful. Fascism and communism are twentieth-century political phenomena that don’t have much relevance today. There are right-wing, anti-democratic, authoritarian movements, and this movie sounds a warning about them, but they are different beasts than what Europe saw in the 1930s, essentially being anti-liberal, anti-government parties trying to implement single-party rule and oligarchy, which is something different than blood and soil (though they’ll make use of that sort of language).
*. The other way the directors try to make things new is by some meta-style hijinks, like showing what I assume is Epperlein reading Haffner’s book, having lots of clacking slates introducing the different locations, and splashing giant keywords up on the screen. It’s snappy and knowing, but I don’t think it adds anything of substance.
*. Having said all that, I thought this was a decent documentary that made its point in a quick, engaging manner, with some insightful commentary by heavyweights like Saul Friedlander, Richard Evans, and Jan Gross. I also liked the bit from the “microphone guru” who talked about how Hitler was set free by the new technology of the microphone, and another part of the film where the comparison is made between the cult of Hitler and Beatlemania.
*. Finally, it is a warning from history that whatever the name of the leader or party or political movement the same dark forces drive human behaviour today as they did then and nothing about our current world that seems stable and progressive can be taken for granted.