Miniseries review: Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003), directed by Christian Duguay
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) must be one of the most infamous men in history. He wasn’t actually German, but Austrian, and this two-part miniseries follows his rise. The first few years as a boy in Austria with his mother Klara (Stockard Channing) go swiftly by, as do his teenage years. There are some hints of cruelty lurking. Little Adolf finally emerges as adult Adolf (Robert Carlyle), a determined young man with … extreme points of view, shall we say?
He goes to Vienna to get into art school, but they won’t have him. He’s not good enough. Destitute and desperate, Adolf knows what’s wrong with the world. It’s the Jews! Their fault! Dark thoughts are brewing …
The man joins World War I as a soldier and does very well, but he doesn’t automatically get the Iron Cross, much to his annoyance. (Again, the fault lies with those pesky Jews, not his own performance.) However, after the war, he goes to infiltrate an outspoken socialist group. It doesn’t take him very long to rise up and say that no, they’re wrong, it’s not a problem with the communists at all, it’s the Jews!
Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Adolf Hitler had the gift of the gab and is determined enough to claw his way to the top of the ranks, and weasel his way into the Reichstag. From there, the rest is history.
Onlookers include the Hanfstaengl couple (Liev Schreiber and Julianna Margulies), who get involved with trying to help the party and then realise perhaps that wasn’t the best idea in the world, and Fritz Gerlich (Matthew Modine), a journalist who quickly catches on that Hitler and his cronies are bad news, and tries to work against them.
Also starring Jena Malone as Geli Raubal (Hitler’s half-niece), Peter Stormare as Ernst Röhm, Friedrich von Thun as General Erich Ludendorff, Peter O’Toole as President Hindenburg, Zoe Telford as Eva Braun, Justin Salinger as Joseph Goebbels, Chris Larkin as Hermann Göring and James Babson as Rudolf Hess.
Carlyle is eerily good in the title role. Pig-headed, brutal, non-compromising, angry, determined, scheming, batshit insane … He’s not a bad likeness either. The Hanfstaengls, I never quite got the hang of, but I suppose they were what ordinary (if rich) people were like in the day. My favourite character was Gerlich, who could see where they were headed and tried to work against it, but swimming against the stream is never easy.
My father is a World War II geek, you could say, so I’ve been brought up on a steady stream of TV documentaries, and have found the subject interesting too. My problem with this production isn’t the scenery, the clothing, the acting or the directing – or even the historical accuracy. My problem is how one-sided it is, strangely enough.
Don’t get me wrong, here. Hear me out first, protest later if you must.
Downfall is an amazing film. It was very controversial when it came out, because it dared (yes, dared) to show Adolf Hitler as a human being. That’s exactly what this doesn’t do. “But he was a monster!” Yes, he certainly was, but he was also a person, nonetheless. If you decide beforehand that the main character of your miniseries is a monster and only portray him thus, you set him up to be something other than human. If he’s not human, that means he was a freak of nature or something, a one-off. He lived, he orchestrated a horrendous war machine, he killed himself, good riddance, glad we’re never going to have to suffer another one.
By portraying Hitler as a complete and utter monster de-humanises him, makes him into a mythical creature we can use to scare our children. He becomes a fairy story, removed from reality. This is my problem.
Everyone says “never forget” about the Holocaust. It’s very important we remember what happened in the concentration camps, and the events leading up to them, to ensure those horrors aren’t repeated. Today’s society struggles with recession, a lack of jobs, and everyone wants a scapegoat to make them feel better. It’s not the Jews that are demonised now, but rather immigrants, asylum seekers and Muslims. It’s a slippery slope, and we’re just lucky there’s none as driven, charismatic, and batshit insane as Hitler around. At the moment.
What if that Norwegian far right terrorist had decided to muster up a political party and raise himself an army and talk his way into parliament? Think about that one for a minute or two.
There’s nothing to say there can’t be someone else like Hitler, who manages to unite the people behind him for a common goal and burn another Reichstag. This is what we need to realise. Hitler wasn’t a freak of nature, he was a normal human being like you or I, and that means that given the right motivation someone else could easily take up where he left off. That frightens me. A shouty, angry man pinning everything on the followers of a certain Abrahamic religion doesn’t so much.
The first reaction was how he was hitting a dog in the trenches. Maybe that happened, I don’t know. It’s just that as far as I know Hitler was very fond of dogs, and strangely, the Nazis were surprisingly progressive about treating animals humanely (ironically while treating humans like livestock). Indeed, they did a lot to bring in laws on animal welfare, so him beating up a dog for little or no reason struck me as strange. Things like that.
Then there’s Adolf the creepy uncle, fiercely watching over his niece like a Rottweiler. This miniseries doesn’t so much imply that he had an incestuous relationship with Geli as state it as a fact. Don’t think anyone knows 100% for sure to this day.
“He hits dogs! He’s a shouty man! He wants to shag his niece! This is not an ordinary man, this man is special … in a bad way!” He was an ordinary man in a bad way, as far as I’m concerned. Indeed, he had lots of help to get where he was going, so he wasn’t even some kind of an evil mastermind. Stop glorifying the bastard!
Anyway, getting off the soapbox, Hitler: The Rise of Evil is a compelling watch, and works very well as a history lesson. He wasn’t an evil mastermind who waltzed into Germany and took over just like that. It was a long process, and he had plenty of help making himself into the brand we all know and hate. It’s history illustrated, full of good actors, and well worth a watch. It’s just … predictable.
We all know he was a monster, ergo, he’s a monster. What if he wasn’t so much of a monster but more a regular guy? One who was still full of anger and had extreme political views and wanted to murder as many people as possible in order to “protect” his country? That would have made a terrifying watch, because then it would have been more real, and it could have been anyone off the street. All a deeply disgruntled people need is a strong leader, after all …
I really hope humanity doesn’t have to suffer another one of those. I’m just saying it could happen easier than you’d think, which scares me. We don’t need to talk about “zhe Führer” in hushed tones, making him out to be some sort of boogeyman lurking in the shadows – we need a reality check and look around us, eyes wide open and ready to react to prevent it from happening all over again. (UPDATE 2021: Well, this is awkward … and also: told you so?) The phrase shouldn’t be “never forget”, but rather “always remember”.
4 out of 5 communist riots.