Back in 2002, there seemed to be a lot of controversy surrounding this film. Plot is simple: Max is a World War I veteran who was also an art dealer. He meets the young Adolf Hitler and tries to help him with his art. This young Adolf Hitler is seen not just as a horrible tyrant but as a human being conflicted in his views and in his path in life. This is what angered a lot of people during this time, but I think unwisely so. As the famous saying goes: “If you do not learn from history, then you are bound to repeat it.”
Now this is not a strict factual history of the evolution of Adolf Hitler because Max Rothman did not actually exist. He is in fact several people who were influential on Hitler’s early life including people who helped to sell his art, dismal as it was. But the importance of this picture is not Max Rothman but to see how Hitler grew up to be the man that he was. Post World War I Germany was a dismal place to be. Germany had to admit defeat in the Great World War and submit to outside forces. These outside forces some Germans believed included the Jews that were residing in Germany. anti-Semitism was rampant in Germany at the time. Hitler was definitely not the inventor of the anti-Semitism movement, just the most influential enforcer of it. Hitler himself was homeless and forced to stay in the army and the barracks after the war ended. He was struggling with being an artist, something he had always set his sights on. But he detested modern art, calling it at one point in the film “diarrhea.” How can he reconcile what he saw on the battlefield, what his political beliefs are with his artistic wishes? He turns himself into art. He becomes an avant-garde full of grandeur, eloquence and theatrics. This is strict contrast to Max Rothman’s character. He is a Jewish man from affluent family. He loves modern art because it evokes what he is feeling in his heart. He is a true believer that art and culture can make a society better. (Hitler detests this idea, by the way.) When he listens to Hitler go on about his anti-Semitic ideas, he sits there in silence and wearily defends himself and his beliefs. He does not believe that his anti-Semitism is anything new or special. In fact Max has probably been having to deal with and encounter these ideas for his whole life. Max thinks in terms of art at all times. He lives the artist life, easily moving through his massive art gallery to his beautiful home to the bohemian cafes. Hitler recognizes that Max is a good man, but he also resents him in many different ways. He resents Max because everything was given to him, or at least he is seen that way. Hitler was of pure Aryan blood and forced to live with no family, no history, no wealth. While Max is a “dirty Jew” who was born rich, came back from the war rich and will die rich. Of course Max is not without his obstacles as well. He was destined to become a painter until he lost his arm in the war.
This film is not without its faults. I think John Cusack who plays Max, plays him with a coolness that underplays his value to society. This may very well be written in the script, but Max seems to be floating in a world that Noah Taylor as Hitler is firmly grounded in. Also Max could never have been this good. He does have a mistress that he puts in his stage performances and spends time with, but even that seems safe and accepted. But over all I think this is a film well worth anybody’s time purely for the fact it brings up interesting aspects of Hitler’s life that is usually left not very well highlighted. I am not what most people would call a Hitler enthusiast (although I wish the History Channel would bring back their Hitler marathons. They were way more interesting than Pawn Stars.) but I find a very interesting character to explore.