Thursday, April 25, 2019

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Monster Of The Times

Adolph Hitler

Springtime For Hitler

More effectively than Pol Pot and more methodically than Stalin, Hitler’s rise to power was achieved through the careful manipulation of the economic, political and cultural forces of the modern age. So great was his capacity to use new found technology like microphones and film to generate powerful images of national pride that by 1941, only two years after the beginning of the war, Hitler’s Nazi Germany had single handedly conquered almost all of Europe.

Screening as part of the Pacific Cinematheque’s monthly mental health series ‘Frames of Mind’ is Canadian director Manfred Becker’s documentary Neighbours: Freud and Hitler in Vienna. While the tone and pace of the film may be too “educational” for some viewers, the film’s material is truly compelling. With Neighbours, Becker navigates history to explore the intellectual relationship between Hitler and Freud as they co-exist in Vienna at the turn of the century. Freud, a member of the intellectual elite and a renowned psychologist for his development of psychoanalysis, is deep into the application of scientific scrutiny to the irrational mind. His theories asserted unconscious forces shape our behaviour and in order to free ourselves from being ruled by instinct we must master our irrationality by examining our deepest repressed memories. Where Freud was searching for an existence free from irrational instincts, the film creates a parallel but contradictory objective for Hitler. The future Fuhrer strove to invert Freud’s principles and gain power through the manipulation of irrational instincts of the masses. Perhaps the most fascinating moment in the film comes when Freud writes a disturbingly prophetic essay detailing the type of person who could find their way into the annals of power. With the development and perversion of modern commercialism, advertising had already begun to take its manipulative lead from the symbolic power of suggestion. In the essay, Freud suggests that one who understood the power of bold imagery, and with a flair for the grandiose, could gain massive national power. Hitler proved such a person. With swastikas and rallies, uniforms and music, the Nazi party offered a strong identity for those who wanted one. With the promise of victory and a new common enemy, a blind irrational nationalism replaced principled reason and the Third Reich was born.
As this month marks the 60th Anniversary of the end of WW2, it also marks the opening of the German Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, located on the grounds of Hitler’s bunker on the edge of the city. This site is also the setting of Olivier Hirschbiegel’s film Downfall, which dramatically chronicles the last ten days of Hitler’s life. With the war coming to an end, Hitler and his closest aides move into a fortified bunker. One of the central characters is Traudl Junge, Hitler’s personal secretary and subject of the 2002 documentary Blind Spot. Here we witness the collapse of both Hitler’s regime and the dream of Nazi domination. As the bombs drop on Berlin, the reality of his failure drops on Hitler himself. Ranting and raving, Hitler blames everyone around him, finally committing suicide to avoid capture. With graphic imagery and unflinching performances, Downfall is a powerful attempt to humanize the man without justifying or sympathizing with him – an important realization as Germany struggles to come to terms with its dark past.

Much has been written about the economic circumstances that led to Hitler’s democratically elected rise to power, and how the economic desperation of Germany after WW1 provided fertile ground for the rise of a madman. But all that attention tends to create a broad-stroked image of Hitler, a figure of incomprehensible evil. As time moves us further away from the reality of the past, films like Neighbours and Downfall look at the human beings behind the mythologized monsters of history, so we can recognize them when we see them again.

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