Director: Vincent Amorim.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen (John Halder), Jason Isaacs (Maurice Israel Glückstein), Jodie Whittaker (Anne), Steven Mackintosh (Freddie), Mark Strong (Bouhler), Gemma Jones (Mother), Anastasia Hille (Helen Halder), Ruth Gemmell (Elizabeth), Ralph Riach (Brunau), Steven Elder (Adolf Eichmann), Kevin Doyle (Commandant), David de Keyser (Mandelstam), Guy Henry (Doctor), Adrian Schiller (Josef Goebbels).
"evil triumphs when good men do nothing"
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Berlin, April 1937. Dr. John Halder reports to Reichsleiter Bouhler at the chancellery of the Fuhrer. He is a bit nervous because the letter he received from Bouhler was marked "Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Severe Hereditary Ailments." He wonders what has that committee to do with him? When he goes into Bouhler's office, it's easy to see that he is very nervous. He makes a weak armed Nazi salute: "Heil Hitler."
Bouhler is the chairman of the censorship committee and so he keeps a vigilant eye on what is written these days ". . . to ensure that it embodies the proper sprit of national socialism." He wants Halder to explain some of his views on the right to life issue appearing in a novel he wrote. He says this is a matter of "personal concern" for Hitler. Does Halder still hold to the views expressed in the novel? Halder says the novel is fiction.
Flashback. May 1933. At home Halder is with his wife Helen and his two children Lotte and Erich. In addition, his mother lives in the house. Helen often gets obsessed with her piano compositions and Halder has to do quite a bit of the housework, such as cooking. His father-in-law comes to the house to speak to John about promotions at the university. He says there are big changes coming to the university and all the good positions will go to members of the national socialist party. In fact, John might just find himself out of a job if he doesn't join the party..
John and his father-in-law Dr. Theodore Brunau go upstairs to see his mother. Theodore says he was sorry to hear that she had recently had a stay at a sanatorium. Mother has trouble with incontinency and she has soiled her bed again.
In Halder's literature class there is a lot of noise outside and most of the students rush to the windows to see what is happening. The Nazis are having a book burning and students are piling up the books. The head of his department comes to tell Halder that he is using many proscribed books, such as ones by Proust. If he doesn't take out the proscribed authors from his curriculum, he will have to dismiss Halder.
A student named Anne Harman stops by to see Halder late at night at his office. She says that she sits in on his lectures. Anne is a history major, but she says the lectures of most professors are boring, whereas Halder makes his lectures "come alive". She says she overheard his talk with the department head and says: "I wish more people would stand up for what they believe in." And what does she believe in? Well, that's the problem. She's just not sure and thinks that ideas are just not real.
Anne walks out with Halder and asks him what is his novel about? It's about a man who kills his incurably ill wife. Halder asks who is going to read a book on such a depressing topic? But Anne says that the novel is romantic. A man kills out of love.
Halder confides in his colleague Maurice, who helps people with mental problems. John says he's been having fantasies for several months about his young female student and that this disturbs him. Maurice says "We put the country in the hands of a lunatic. Taking refuge in fantasy might be a rational response to an irrational world." Maurice asks him if he has had sex with this Anne and John says he hasn't. Maurice seems almost disappointed in John for not having had sex with the young woman.
Sitting outside at a picnic table having some beers the two men talk some more about politics. Maurice says he thinks that Hitler is absolutely mad, but people seem to take him too literally. John councils: "Give it time, Maurice. Hitler's a joke. He'll never last."
Bouhler asks Halder directly: "Would it surprise you to learn that the Fuhrer himself had examined your book?" Halder is surprised. Bouhler goes on to say that the Fuhrer has received several letters from relatives of ". . .unfortunates with incurable handicaps requesting his special permission to ease their suffering." And he wants Halder to write a paper on: "the case for an enlightened approach to mercy death on the grounds of humanity." He goes on to say that Hitler, Goebbels and he himself all liked Halder's writing. Halder is relieved that they just called him in to write a paper.
Bouhler walks Halder out. He tells him that they, of course, studied Halder's background. Bouhler knows Halder saw front-line service in 1918 and he works at his university. There is one problem, however. Halder has never joined the National Socialist Party. Halder wasn't prepared to hear this question and he fumbles around for an answer. Basically he just says his mother was ill and his life was oh-so "complicated".
On a very rainy night Anne comes over with nothing on but a coat. She says her clothes got all wet and she had to take them off. John gets her and himself some brandy. He says his wife has gone to bed. Anne starts saying that she thinks she has found something to believe in. Halder tells her that maybe she should take different classes. She says something that has a double meaning: "I want to be with you." But she clarifies her wording by grabbing his neck and giving him a passionate kiss. Then they start kissing each other.
The next day, Halder has some more beers with Maurice, who is laughing because Halder "couldn't get it up". In self-defense, John says he was a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. Helen came downstairs saying she can't sleep and wants to play the piano for awhile. Halder tries to get her to go back upstairs, but then Helen hears a cough. John explains that it's just one of his students, who got soaking wet. She is very trusting and only asks if John is okay because he seems a bit anguished.
The next day John speaks to Anne saying that he can't, he is a married man. He doesn't get too far with his serious talk to Anne, because the Nazis are having still another rally. Anne wants him to go with her to the rally. John tells her that he really can't stand that kind of stuff. He says he doesn't like the ideas behind the rally, but Anne says ". . . but feel this energy." She believes that with a few good people the party could be turned in the right direction.
John tells Bouhler that he still hasn't joined the party because he can't see himself waving around flags and banners. Bouhler says he agrees. His talents would be wasted in the rank and file. So Bouhler calls Sturmbannfuhrer Drobisch and tells him that he has someone who he should meet.
So now Drobisch introduces John to the Schutzstaffel, Hitler's elite guard -- his personal bodyguard. Halder's position will be an honorary one.
John goes home and starts telling Helen something, but she just keeps playing her piano. He tells her that he wants to tell her something, but now his mother calls him upstairs.
John is writing something on the typewriter in his rented bedroom. Anne is in the bed next to him. Maurice rings the doorbell and John looks out the window to see who it is. Maurice is now walking away from the house when John calls to him. He tells John that Helen sent him to this place. He wants John to come for a drink with him because he has lost a lot of clients recently. John says he can't come, he is busy working. So Maurice asks him if he is all right, because John is here at this place and Helen is at home. John tells him everything is fine. He will see Maurice when things have settled down.
John and Anne go to a Nazi party at the Chancellery. And there they run into John's father-in-law. He publicly scolds John for shirking his duties as a husband. Theodore says John is a man of great "moral weakness". He says that he abandoned his wife Helen for the whore, Anne. John asks Theodore not to bring Anne into this and walks away from the man. He says about Theodore: "Bastard!" Drobisch chases after Halder. He gets his wife Elizabeth to baby sit Anne, while he talks with Halder. Drobisch tells John not to worry about what his father said. He says that Himmler, for instance, wants his men to go out and knock up girls in order to give the Fuhrer more children for the nation.
At home John has to tell his mother, who is sitting on the stairs, that she has to stop unpacking her suitcase. Mom thinks that she has just arrived rather than about to leave. John tells her to put her clothes back in the suitcase because they have not even left the old house yet. There is something burning on the stove. He runs into the kitchen where Helen is trying to fry some onions. But she has let the pan overheat and smoke is coming out of the pan. John takes the pan off the grill. His wife tells him that not long ago she wouldn't have minded so much that he had fallen in love with a younger woman. It seemed to her that John had lost his enthusiasm for life. But recently he has been so alive that she had fallen in love with him all over again.
Helen changes the subject to ask if her father made an awful scene at the Chancellery? John say he deserved it, but she says her father doesn't know how much John had to put with with her. John tells Helen not to be so nice to him, but she denies that she has been kind. Suddenly, a terrible thump is heard. John rushes to check on his mother. It seems she was trying to come down the stairs when she got tangled in all the clothes laying on those stairs. Mom says she's okay and now wants to leave quickly. They get to the front door, but then mom says she has to go to the bathroom. John gets very exasperated with her.
On the trip they stop at a restaurant with an outdoor beer garden. Mother tells John to give her all her pills at once and put her out of her misery because all that is left for her is more pain. She says that John just wants her out of the way so he can be alone with his whore. She says she has her own house and that's where she will live.
At a swimming pool Maurice and John are reminiscing about their WWI days. John starts talking about getting a promotion and Maurice demands to know what promotion? John has been made the head of his department. (undoubtedly due to his Nazi connections) Maurice says how did he get promoted when he isn't even a member of the party? John remains silent and Maurice says: "Not you, too, Johnnie?" Maurice gets up and gets dressed to leave. He then tells John to tell him that he agrees with the Nazis. John replies: "It doesn't matter if I agree with them. The fact is, they're in power." He also gives him a rationalization for his behavior. John says if they want to change anything, they have to try to lead the party in the right direction. And if Maurice is so upset at the way things are going in Germany, he should leave the country for one or two years. After all, says John, Maurice doesn't have any ties here anymore. This infuriates Maurice and he asks how dare John say that he has no ties to German? He fought for the country and he's not going to leave the country, because that's what you (the Nazis and John) want.
Back to the present. October 1938. The Nazis are making a movie out of Halder's book. John and Anne are on set watching the filming. Goebbels approaches John and congratulates him on the filming. He says they produce a lot of fluff at the studios, but Halder here has a real message to get out. John introduces a pregnant Anne to Goebbels. Later Anne tells her husband that she is very proud of him. They get into the car to be driven home, but John tells his wife that he must go see Helen and the kids, because Erich is having trouble in school. Anne opposes this, but John won't listen to her. He puts her in the car and he leaves.
But John doesn't go to visit his first family. Rather he goes to see his old friend Maurice. (John's going into the Jewish district is noted by a man working for the party.) Maurice thanks him for honoring his request and coming to see him. John asks where's his maid? Amy had to leave, because Jewish people cannot employ Aryans under the age of 45. Maurice had prepared dinner and dessert for his friend. John asks him what he wants and Maurice says he needs exit papers. A naive John tells Maurice: "Trust me -- you don't have to leave the country." Maurice really wants to leave. John says there are proper channels to use, but Maurice tells him if the authorities know, they will only let him leave with 10 German marks. John says he can't do it now. Maurice reminds him that he is in the SS, but John says that the title is merely honorary. Maurice tells John right out that he doesn't want to hear any more of his rationalizations. He just wants John to get him a ticket to Paris. John is still hesitant, so Maurice slides a pile of money over to him saying he is willing to pay anything for the exit papers and a ticket. John reluctantly takes the money.
John waits in a line to buy a ticket to Paris. Drobisch and some of his buddies in the SS come over and tease John about waiting in line like the rank and file. He takes John to the front of the line and he tells the clerk to give his friend a first-class ticket to wherever he's going and he will sign for it. John asks for a ticket to Paris. When he mentions Paris, everyone is taken aback. Drobisch tells him that this isn't funny. You can't joke about leaving Germany. So John now says he made a mistake. He wants to go to Brandenburg. Drobisch asks John what takes him to Brandenburg? He replies: "My mother."
John pays a visit to his mother. He finds her in very bad shape. He asks her where's her assistant and mom whispers weakly, on vacation. She asks her son to let her come back and live with him and Helen. John reminds her that he is not married to Helen anymore. He gets her pills and then not realizing what he is doing he puts them in reach of his mother. He goes to get his mother something to drink and she swallows all her pills at once. When he returns to her room he tries to get what's left of the pills out of her mouth. Mom starts screaming.
John has to yell at Maurice to get him to stop. Maurice stops and John insists that he take his money back. Maurice says John looks terrible and John tells him that his mother tried to commit suicide. John adds that his mother has no memory any more and her dignity is gone. Maurice responds: "At least she isn't Jewish." Maurice gets mad and throws his gift to John gift on the ground. John picks it up and Maurice says it was for him. It was Jewish cheesecake. He asks John where are they going to get good cheese cake if the Jews are all locked up?
Maurice asks, so John is not going to get him a ticket? John says he tried. He can't do it. Maurice gets up, gives John a disgusted look and leaves.
At the funeral, Helen and John talk. He regrets having put his mother through all that suffering and for what? Helen says it's too much to ask a son to kill his own mother. Helen is now making money by teaching piano. And she has learned to cook. Before she leaves, she says the kids are very proud of what he's doing. In fact, she adds: "We all are."
John now inspects a clinic dealing with the disabled. The doctor giving him the tour says he read Halder's paper and thought it a competent statement of the ethical issues.
Drobisch and Elizabeth are now visiting John and Anne at their new place, which was the old place of the previous head of the department. Drobisch tells John that he and his wife have had some tests done. He tells John that he and Elizabeth can't have children and the guys keep razing him about when he is going to have some kids. A messenger arrives by motorcycle and hands a message to Drobisch. He has to report to headquarters immediately. The Jews have shot Vom Rath, secretary in the Paris embassy. He tells John: ". . . if Vom Rath dies, I wouldn't want to be a Jew tomorrow night." He asks John if Liz can stay with them for the night? Liz asks him where is he going and her husband says he's going to burn down a few synagogues. Liz says he's joking. Drobisch says he has to go to a briefing and then plan how to organize a protest of popular indignation at the killing of Vom Rath.
The two women and John are having dinner together when John says he left some papers he needs for his lecture tomorrow at his office and he has to go. He almost jolts out of his chair and leaves, with Anne not looking too happy. John goes back to ask the railway ticket seller for a return trip to Paris. The man says he needs exact papers. So John threatens to move the man to digging the road for the autobahn. The clerk now is willing to give John his railway ticket to Paris. With the ticket he races over to Maurice's apartment, but he is not home. So he leaves a note asking Maurice to come over to the house tomorrow.
John receives a phone call. Vom Rath has died. All reserves have been called up, including John. John tell Anne that he wanted to help Maurice out. Anne says Maurice can take care of himself. Then she asks John if he would risk everything they have just to help out Maurice? John says Maurice may come tonight and if he does, she is to give him the ticket to Paris and the papers. Anne says no, but John says she must do it for him.
John is on the street during a rowdy night (that later becomes known as Crystal Night where many Nazis and others broke the front windows of Jewish stores). John tries to reach Maurice, but he still isn't at home. He rushes into the street where Jews are being placed in the back of trucks. He calls out for Maurice, but no answer. Another SS man asks who is he looking for and he says Maurice Gluckstein. The fellow shouts out for Gluckstein and a Gluckstein answers that he is here. They tell the man to come out. He's not Maurice, but John says it is the man he is looking for. John is suddenly paralyzed by a song running through his head. Gluckstein uses the opportunity to run for his life. John runs home and asks Anne if Maurice has been here and she says no.
April 1942. An SS man says that in John's records there is a mention of his friendship with a Jewish man known as Maurice Israel Gluckstein. John just says he saw the man professionally. The SS man tells John that his work is valued by the Nazi leaders. They are in the process of resettling the Jews in the east and they need to know if reception facilities are fully operational. For this process they need reports they can rely on and they figure that John would be a good man for the job. John just asks when do they want him to start? Immediately.
John asks the SS man Eichmann if accurate records have been kept on the people they are resettling? The man is so proud of his work in record keeping that he takes John to the immaculate record storage area. John asks him could they try a little test of the system? That man Gluckstein, for instance. The administrator gives the order to the clerk and then goes saying that he has too much work to do to wait for the answer. The clerk finds the file and tells John that this Gluckstein, M. I. has been evacuated to Silesia. He even lets John look at the piece of paper with the pertinent information on it.
John gets in the limousine. Anne comes running up to him to ask if he is going to say goodbye? John tells her that he knows what she did. In fact, that night Maurice came over, she turned him in. Anne asks how he can say such a thing and John tells her that the Gestapo keeps very good records.
John goes to visit a concentration camp in Silesia. He asks the commandant if he can find a man chosen at random named Gluckstein? The commandant finally says to John: "Frankly, not a chance in hell. Nine out of ten are processed on arrival. No one's here for more than a month or two." Later, John walks around on his own. He sees many men dead on the ground or collapsed in a heap from exhaustion and malnutrition. The commandant follows John.
Jojn stops to watch the prisoner band play music by Mahler. Now he realizes what is going on here and that it's all very real.
Good movie. Viggo Mortensen was very good as the naive professor who goes along with the Nazis using the rationalization that they have all the power and there is nothing anyone can do about it. He is basically a good man, but is overpowered by the evil system of fascism. He didn't want to involve himself with the Nazis but they came for him because he wrote a novel on a mercy killing, where a man killed his terminally ill wife. The Nazis liked the way he handled the issue. They like the humaneness of his approach. So they get him to write a position paper on mercy killing (expecting him to be sympathetic to the idea of mercy killing). He gets more and more drawn into the Nazi system and becomes an honorary SS man. But he finds himself having to actually work at times as a regular SS man. It just goes from bad to worse.
So I understand the film and accept it for what it is. My little quibble with the film is the use of the statement "evil triumphs when good men do nothing". When poor John Halder was pulled in by the Nazis, the Nazis were basically already in power. They, in a sense, had already triumphed.
The time to stop fascism is before it gets enough power to grab all the rest of the power. In this case, it would be the years before 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
For instance, in 2011 the United States has a strong movement going on in what is called the Tea Party. These people are such fascists that they have a crazy anti-government view that supports doing damage to that same government. And yet look at the American liberals. Not saying too much to antagonize the Tea Party are they? I expect the situation was the same in Germany. The liberals just did not understand fascism or just wanted to be in denial. In the United States the latter applies to American liberals. In fact, the Tea Party periodically threatens to shut down the American national government because these fanatics refused to compromise. It's their way and that's the way it is or else!
Once Hitler was in power who was going to stop him, except an outside force? Opposing Hitler meant death and often torture and death. Once he was in power, he used his power to force liberals to be quiet. One cannot expect men to speak up against a totalitarian regime very willing to kill whole groups of people to get what they want. If the good professor had spoken out, he would have been eliminated, pure and simple. The smart ones got out of Germany. That's about the only option German liberals had. And Hitler even made that extremely difficult.
Yes, after 1933 it really was suicide to protest. Those who did, are far and in-between, and we call them "heroes".
Let's hope the liberals wake up before it's too late to stop this ever growing fascism in the United States that will certainly hurt and harm the whole nation. Usually the liberal approach is the same as that of the professor's approach. The professor said that Hitler's a joke and he will never last. And they scold people who say they are worried about the possibility of serious fascism in the United States. Like the professor, they are making a mistake. You have to fight such vicious fascist propaganda whenever it raises its ugly head. And yet our American liberals are just like our German liberals. The German liberals never took Hitler very seriously and American liberals don't take the Tea Party very seriously.
And just a reminder. Racism has always played a big part in fascism and the outstanding characteristic of the Tea Party people is the racism in their all white party. Fascism was greatly based on theories of racial superiority. The Aryans were supposed to be superior to all other peoples. The Japanese also believed that their citizens were a superior group of people compared to other Asians and of other races.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
Return To Main Page
Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)