Fox on the Beach, Salmon River, 2016 — Photo Braden Pezeshki
Note: a couple of very minor plot spoilers below!
If there’s a must-watch v-Meme Movie-of-the-Year, it has to be Look Who’s Back, an insightful blacker-than-black comedy about what might happen if Hitler showed up in modern-day Germany. The movie is actually an assemblage of standard, scripted scenes shot to tell the story, as well as inserted clips taken while they drove the actor, Oliver Masucci, dressed as Hitler around contemporary Germany. The movie inserts this footage with the typical device of anonymity, the black bar over the eyes. I had originally thought that this, too was a plot device for the movie. But it’s not. The people crowding Hitler at the Brandenburg Gate for a selfie really want one.
The basic plot is brilliant in illustrating empathetic comparison between time periods. Hitler reappears in a cloud of smoke on top of his old bunker in Berlin, with no memory of anything between 1945 and the present. He is homeless and disheveled. He makes his way to a newspaper stand, where he is taken in by the owner, and starts reviewing all the papers, making requests at the same time for periodicals from his time — most of which do not exist. He is discovered by an down-and-out freelancer filming a series on inner city kids’ soccer, and then the film is off to the races, with the freelancer hauling Hitler all over Germany, and placing him in a variety of venues, often for real individuals to riff off of.
In the movie, Hitler is portrayed as a real person, or really, rather as a cunning, highly intelligent, histrionic charismatic psychopath — not an iconic ideologue. As such, it serves as an interesting piece to watch exactly how such a personality might work and gain popularity. When people don’t act with the level of respect that Der Fuhrer thinks he deserves, he doesn’t get mad. Instead, he pivots, connects, and empathizes with whoever the target is. And while there is little doubt that Hitler is well, Hitler, what’s fascinating is watching how in the movie, Hitler has a pan- v-Meme message that connects across his audience. From Tribal — Hitler attributes Wikipedia as a Viking creation — to Legalistic/Absolutistic — Hitler talks about food, the environment, purity, and rightness, to Communitarian — Hitler talks about health and elder care across German society — he forms a powerful, convincing message. As long as you’re in the In-group. The Out-group here? Immigrants. Initially, Hitler can’t even conceive of the Muslim immigration situation in Germany, attributing Turkish newspapers to a potential alliance with Nazi Germany that won the war.
One of the plot vehicles in the movie is for Hitler to participate in a low-brow comedy show as part of his trajectory back to popularity. Yet, instead of reading jokes insulting all sorts of constituencies in German society– the screenwriters’ attempts to be racy and controversial — he delivers monologues about modern society (and the cooking shows that dominate cable television) that emerge effortlessly from his psyche. The movie captures the deliberate self-referential behavior of Hitler, and the persuasive power of such a personality when the message delivered is consistent and coherent, but ungrounded. To the answer of whether Hitler and those he’s connected with believe this stuff, well, yes.
Compilation of the movie’s trailers
One of the more fascinating twists of Hitler’s final identification as the real thing comes from a trauma survivor. I won’t say more, but you couldn’t ask for a more psychologically correct state from someone frozen in the past from the horrors she personally witnessed.
Personally, I laughed through about 3/4 of it. And then in a flash, it started getting too real. In the current United States’ political season, some of this no laughing matter.