‘The Meaning of Hitler’ Review: Understanding Fascism
The docu-essay “Hitler’s Meaning” proceeds with caution. The film, based on historian and journalist Sebastian Haffner’s 1978 book of the same title, seeks to understand the combination of personal pathology, political shrewdness and mass complicity that enabled Hitler to create the regime. Nazi. It also finds disturbing echoes of the 21st century.
But the filmmakers, the wife-husband directorial team of Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker (“Gunner Palace”), are wary of contributing to any mystique surrounding Hitler, not least because they find little in Hitler’s past that makes it unique. Very early on, a narrator worries about the project: “Is it possible to make a film like this without contributing to the expansion of the Nazi cinematographic universe?
Although the film features Holocaust historians like Saul Friedländer, Yehuda Bauer and Deborah Lipstadt and authors Martin Amis and Francine Prose, it tackles Hitler in various disciplines. Psychiatrist Peter Theiss-Abendroth says Hitler was credited with almost every available diagnosis, but suggests that such speculation invariably creates excuses for guilt. Bauer notes that Hitler’s psychological problems were no different from those of millions of others. The film takes a look at the technology to explain how advances in microphones enabled Hitler’s theatrical style of speech. An archaeologist discusses the excavation of the Sobibor extermination camp.
So, is “The Meaning of Hitler” really playing with fire? That’s when he follows Holocaust denier David Irving on a visit to Treblinka. Irving makes such blatant flippant anti-Semitic remarks that it’s hard to see what’s edifying about including him.
But that misstep aside, “Hitler’s Sense” takes a multifaceted, often counter-intuitive, approach to examining the foundations of fascism.
Unclassified. In English and German with subtitles. Duration: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or purchase from Google Play, Apple TV, and other streaming services.
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