Evil as we know it

I’ve just discovered The Downfall and am eager to see it. I learned about this move from bigsleepj on LiveJournal and, from his review, it seems to be part of a different sort of movie about the Holocaust. Life is Beautiful was the first film that I saw like this. Life is Beautiful uses the Holocaust as a backdrop for a love story, but ends up with death in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. But it is a funny little movie. The humor evidently offends some people, but the humor of Life is Beautiful is powerful in the way that The Downfall‘s portrayal of Hitler as a real human (and not just an evil, inhumane monster that we’d like to think of him) is powerful. Evidently, some people would like to just say “Never Again” and let that be the end of it. But it isn’t enough, because as told me:

People want to make monsters of these leaders. Monsters that are “not like us”. I think that’s very dangerous. Either we can all become monsters or none of us are monsters but all capable of amazing evil. Either way, this is not an us vs. them. It’s in us all.

Movies like these help us to understand that the Holocaust wasn’t a special case, but that such great evil can rise from even the most mundane motives. Finally, bigsleepj says “The questions about Hitler, how such a cruel man can be kind and how people are willing to die for him despite it being clear that he’s neither a saviour nor a saint, can not be answered by a single three hour movie.” I would counter that those questions don’t even need to be asked. We are willing to die for what we love and many of us do not love Good. Many of us think Good is nice and sweet, but we don’t love it. Instead, we love power, we love comfort, we love ourselves and, while we don’t set out to cause harm to others, sometimes people get hurt while we pursue our love of power, comfort, and self. But beyond that, what we love impairs our judgment: Hitler was able to accomplish so much destruction because he appealed to people’s self-love so that they were able to overlook his unpleasantness. The humanity of The Downfall‘s Hitler isn’t a curious question, it is a warning to all of us.

2 thoughts on “Evil as we know it”

  1. deception

    I’ve been reading a mystery novel by PD James (she is a great writer by the way) and yesterday ran across this passage where she has one of her detectives talk about serial killers saying,

    “But they aren’t mad are they? Not until they are caught. Until then they cope with life like most other people. Then we discover that they’re monsters and decide, surprise, surprise, to classify them as mad. Makes it seem more comprehensible. We don’t have to think of them as human anymore. We don’t have to use the word ‘evil.’ Everyone feels better.”

    We rented Downfall a couple of months ago. I would concur with the movie review that you pointed to. It certainly did an excellent job making Hitler seem more “human” and believable. It was interesting to see the ways people maintained their deceptions and what they were willing to believe (or not believe) as their world came crashing in upon them.

    I objected to “Life is Beautiful”, not so much because of the humor but because of the deception. If I remember correctly (it of course has been many years) the main character weaves an elaborate story of deception which keeps a young boy (his son?) at peace. So when the “end” finally comes the boy has no clue about the actual horror that awaits him.

    For that reason, I found the movie deeply disturbing and I think that I myself would probably tend to err on the side of truth rather than falsehood. (for example I am always disturbed by parents who want to ‘protect’ their children from the realities of death when a friend or family member dies.)

    1. Re: deception

      I was uncomfortable with the deception, too, but placed it in the realm of parental discernment.

      Protecting kids from the realities of death is a bad idea, but on the other hand the reality of the concentration camps was so horrible that deception might have been the better choice, depending on the child. I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off.

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