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Wrt./Dir. Menno Meyjes
Str. John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Leelee Sobieski
Opens December 27th

Hitler Was A Teenage Art Fag

There is an outrage over Max that I can almost understand. Of all the touchy subjects in history, Adolph Hitler is right up there towering over Caligula, Regan, and even George Lucas for crimes against humanity and its notion of decent behavior. But, the film asks, what if Hitler (Taylor) had found a mentor (Cusack in the Titular role) to help him with his struggling career as a painter and artist? What kind of man would he have been to teach? What kind of man would the mentor have been? Could the atrocities have been averted? Would Hitler have ever gotten laid?

What people seem so upset about is the idea that anyone would portray Hitler as human. They say this portrayal will soften his image, make him less monstrous. I think there is something scary about this point of view. The fact of the matter is Hitler was actually human (trust me, I've seen pictures and he's got the requisite number of fingers and ears), and I think it's this that people are refusing to admit. There are those who seem to believe that he was a monster (like literally an aberration of nature cast from a demonic mold) rather than a lunatic of epic proportions; what scares me about this view is that if Hitler is seen as something so paranormal then it makes him likewise unique; nothing like Hitler could ever happen again because Hitler was a singularity. And that is a very terrifying notion.

Reminiscent of the fervor over The Last Temptation of Christ, people have become outraged from something they have never seen. Max might produce a Hitler who is a real live human being, but that doesn't mean that he's likeable. According to Max, Hitler was an asshole long before he was a Nazi and running along side his climb into politics is a mania that would, these days, require daily doses of Thorazine, lithium, and probably some paxil for good measure. Max does not glorify Hitler; it will not endear him to the people or forgive him any of his acts. Max will, however, do something that no one has done before: it will turn Hitler in to something one can comprehend.


There is some very well placed humor through out Max. Hitler isn't just an asshole, he's not just insane, he is also extremely laughable; Hitler's Mentor, Max Rothman, is appalled by his view points, but finds the dictator in training so absurd that he becomes more a source of amusement than any viable threat. Cusack, himself, has several witty jokes and left handed comments that are the staple of the John Malkovich wannabe. Meyjes carries this absurdity throughout the movie and there is a constant presence of simple dumb luck aiding the rise of Hitler.

Coincidence is ever present. It helps to bolster the idea that Max is not an historical drama depicting events as they happened, but rather a fable which pulls various threads of truth from across the board and weaves them into a tale which, if you recall any of the Brothers Grim, is not really that much more depressing than the what we heard as children. Everything or nothing might be true, that is one of the aspects to the film that makes it work so well. The audience suspends its disbelief on a very deep level.

Technically, Max borders on perfection. The acting, the directing, the sets and costumes have all been carefully cast. The cinematography sets the atmosphere artfully. Movies that involve two characters of vastly differing classes and social strata generally paint the posh in a very different light than the poor. In Max, however, while there are obvious differences between Rothman's townhouse and Hitler's barracks, both are filmed with the same stark tone. It is obvious, via the cinematography, that while these two men are separated by money they occupy the same world and the future of each is quite bleak.

The writing, especially the dialogues between Max and Hitler, is very well done. There is a great amount of expounding on the nature of art, and what it is to paint, and how painful the whole mess is, and how fabulous so-and-so was and "Look at me, I went to Art School!" But there is not so much that it becomes arduous; these conversations feel justified and not at all out of place. There is a deep philosophy to Max and Hitler's relationship, they are not really friends per-se, Rothman says many times that he does not much like the man, but rather pities him, or finds him mildly entertaining.

The Cons

There isn't much that's bad about Max at all... well aside from the thousands of protests and piles of hate mail saying all those involved with the production are evil, evil, evil, bad, bad men. Still, nothing is without its faults. The pace of the movie is a little jerky at the beginning and you wonder what, exactly, they're trying to do. It finds its tempo quickly, however and falls into a nice saunter.

The accents, my God! The accents! Cusack, thankfully, refuses to even attempt anything approaching a German accent, sticking with the same old voice we all know and love. Taylor wrangles his treble into something that might sound like Germen if you were, say, underwater and deaf, but it occasionally slips away and you hear a little of the Australian mate in him. And then there's the bit casting where all of the Jewish characters decide to use British accents, and all of the Aryans opt for that staple of stage, The Colonel Klink.

The relationship between Max and his wife is virtually non-existent. This is all by design, leaving Max free to cavort guiltlessly with the lovely, deep voiced Liselore Von Peltz (Sobieski); although you do wonder what service the wife does the movie at all.


Humor: Two-and-a-half Seinfelds, Only With Good Timing
Without the tidbits of dry wit and Cusack-esque bites, Max would be mired in its history and drama. This movie is almost as entertaining as it is good, a rarity among Oscar season flicks.

Last Shot: Four Bleak Visions of the World To Come
Max takes the cake for the best final shot of any movie in a nice long time. It manages to sum up every theme presented throughout the movie beautifully. I can still picture it and it still gives me goose bumps.

Overall: Three-and-a-half Bad, Bad, Bad, Evil, Evil Hipsters
Easily one of the most solid films produced this year.

--B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | December 2002 | Issue 33
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