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Political drama based on a stage play by C.P. Taylor set in Germany in the years leading up to World War II. Viggo Mortensen stars as literary professor John Halder. Halder is an essentially decent family man who becomes drawn into the ascent of national socialism after he writes a novel advocating compassionate euthanasia, which is subsequently seized upon by powerful politicians looking for propaganda to support their campaign.
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When they burn books, he stands by. When his Jewish friend begins to be stripped of his fundamental human rights, he stands by, and says "why don't you leave. You don't have any ties here", forgetting that his friend is a native German, and has just as much right to stay as he has.
Then, he is co-opted by the SS to vindicate their hateful policies, and again, he doesn't feel it will hurt.
It is a slippery slope, and at the end of the film, he discovers just how deep the hole at the bottom of that slope can get. I won't put in spoilers, but this film is a serious warning of how things can start small, and grow big, and then spiral of the control of anybody who recognises what is happening.
As some people might put it, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that is just the message that this film is trying to teach.
Just as "Nazis: A Warning From History" The Nazis - A Warning From History [DVD]  shows, once irrational hatred takes hold, it takes on a life of its own. And if you look at the news today, you can see that it IS starting to happen again, so it's a warning we all need to heed. This time around, don't just be "good", be better!
It is like watching a play rather than a movie, as so much of the content is in the dialogue and in the relationship between the character Viggo plays and his friend played by Jason Isaacs - who is absolutely excellent. It is chilling to see how someone who is intrinsically 'good' can be coerced and threatened, by a regime such as the rising National Socialist part in Germany, into taking actions which he cannot really justify or understand. It is a fascinating study of the struggle between a man's conscience and his fear for the safety of himself and his family.
It made me think about what fear does to a person, and to a nation when they are in the grip of dictatorship, and how incredibly brave people can be when they do take a stand and often sacrifice their lives. It's beautifully acted, and paced but not for anyone who is looking for a war film or an action film.
The main character, John Halder, is played by Viggo Mortenson. Halder is a decent sort, an academic whose mother is desperately ill. He takes her in to his home to care for her, putting himself, his wife and marriage under terrible pressure. To vent some of this pressure he writes a novel. In this novel a husband, faced with a sick wife who is beyond all medical help, assists her, out of compassion, to commit suicide. The novel, of limited interest at the time of publication, is seized upon by the Nazi Party as a fine instrument of propaganda to promote its own long term goal of genetic cleansing. Halder is coopted into assisting and in time even into joining the Nazi Party. He does so in the naif belief that he can keep Nazi ideology at arm's length and remain unpolluted by it, perhaps even helping to calm and modify Nazi policies.
After all, he tells himself, he is doing nothing. Instead of this he ,in despite of himself ,is forced to extend and deepen the nature of his cooperation becoming an integral and essential part of the widening Nazi horror. One small extra step of cooperation is taken, time after time, with Halder, on every occaision telling himself that he is doing nothing.The film is well scripted and brilliantly staged and shot.
The background music has been skillfully chosen and is well played,not drowning out the dialogue as in certain films. The supporting cast is replete with first rate actors -Jason Isaacs, Jodie Whittaker, Gemma Jones - all of whom play their parts to perfection. The mystery at the rotten heart of Nazi Germany may remain unanswered but the film does at least suggest a partial explanation to the question of how could all - indeed any of this- have happened- namely: in order for evil to succeed it is only necessary for one thing to occur and that is for good men to do nothing.
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Story of an ordinary man who is sucked into supporting and becoming a Nazi, a metaphore the entire country.Read more