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Sunday, February 26, 2006

IST Movie Review: Max

by Jay Allbritton
Was Hitler human? That was the question that outraged critics asked when the film Max hit theaters in 2002. These critics argued that to depict Hitler as a character in a film would humanize the mass murderer. The film however succeeded brilliantrly in showing exactly how Hitler was not human.

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The scene that perpetuates the break between Hitler and the film's titular character, Max Rothman, an Austrian art dealer and disfigured war veteran played by John Cusack, comes after a final disagreement over the nature of art. Hitler, played by Noah Taylor, asserts with prophetic zeal that politics is the new art. Unimpressed, Rothman shrugs off Hitler's paradigm shift with a backhanded compliment, "You've always been an intutitive futurist," he tells young Adolph. Hitler verbally attacks his mentor for predictably applying the ready academic classification for his ideas.

Max and Hitler part ways and the rest is history. Hitler and the idealogues in the upper eschelon of the Third Reich fluidly manipulated the masses by controlling the culture. But the approach removed the possibility for humanity in the policy. Hitler had a vision, and like a sculptor he took to the German nation and realized that vision, no matter the cost.

So, after a century of film, what is the state of politics and film? This is the question Max forces us to confront. Historical films say more about the culture at the time of the film than the time the film depicts. In the 1980s dozens of films depicting the Vietnam War era poured out of Hollywood. Their subtext and cultural affect, however, were focused on foreign policy debates about Reagan's Pentagon and the possibility of a new Vietnam-style intervention in Central America.

Max comes at a time in American history when politics and art have spent decades getting comfortable with one another. The act Presidents and other national figures have been putting on since the days of the founding fathers was laid bare by the administrations that favored style over substance, especially when they were closely scrutinized by the media. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton brought Marlon Brando-sized personas, which were meticulously stage managed by some of the best directors not in Hollywood--to the White House. The 2000 presidential campaign featured two candidates with far less charisma vying to be something they were not, the next leading man of American politics.

Gore wasn't Clinton. Bush wasn't Reagan, so America really couldn't decide who it wanted as President in 2000. As far as America was concerned, generally speaking, they could both go jump off a bridge.

Still, just because both candidates were lacking style didn't mean that America would suddenly become interested in substance. On 9/11 America gained a new national identity--injured, angry, victimized. With blood in our streets and the entire country finally behind him, after a successful war with Afghanistan, Bush resembles the humanized version of Hitler that we see in Max. George W. Bush envisioned a free Middle East centered around Iraq. And just like young Hitler he bagan to sculpt that vision out of a reality that could not support the scope of his artist conception.

VIDEO: Interview with Noah Taylor.

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