Max (2000)




Director:     Menno Meyjes.

Starring:     John Cusack (Max Rothman), Noah Taylor (Adolf Hitler), Leelee Sobieski (Liselore von Peltz), Molly Parker (Nina Rothman), Ulrich Thomsen (Captain Mayr), David Horovitch (Max's Father), Janet Suzman (Max's Mother), András Stohl (NCO), John Grillo (Nina's Father), Anna Nygh (Nina's Mother), Krisztián Kolovratnik (Nina's Brother), Peter Capaldi (David Cohn), Yuliya Vysotskaya (Hildegard), János Kulka (Mr. Epp), Katalin Pálfy (Mrs. Epp).

A Jewish art dealer helps a struggling artist named Adolf Hitler



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

1917 summer.  The Third Imperial Army lost the disastrous offensive known as the Third Battle of Ypres.  Germany begged for peace having suffered two million dead and four million wounded in World War I.  100,000 German Jews served in the Imperial German Army.  40,000 volunteered. 

Jewish German Max Rothman was a painter before WWI, but he lost an arm in the war and now works as an art dealer.  Max has a wife named Nina and a mistress named Liselore von Peltz.  Adlof Hitler is a 30 year old German war veteran who is now a very struggling artist.  Hitler has to get in a soup line for nourishment.  Max runs into Hitler and starts a conversation.  Hitler was with the 16th cavalry, while Max was with the 9th light Hussars.  Hitler is taken to see Max's Das Eisern Werk, an abandoned railway terminal that he now uses as an art gallery.  He tells Max that he does not believe in anti-Semitism.  Hitler says he has no homeland, home, parents, family, fiancé, job or food.  Back on the streets Hitler passes by as some hooligans kick the hell out of a communist "bastard". 

A demonstration against the Versailles treaty between the Allies and Germany is started.  The demonstrators shout "unfair".  Hitler speaks against the treaty to the crowd.  He gets so carried away and loud that his mouth tosses out spittle when he talks. 

Max and Hitler speak to each other again.  Max tells the struggling artist to come with him and he will buy him a glass of lemonade.  Hitler talks to Rothman of the importance of the purity of the blood of a people.  Max says all that is complete nonsense.  He tells Hitler to focus more on his painting and less on politics.  But that is going to be hard to do since the army pays Hitler's expenses.  Max responds by giving Hitler an advance on any future sales.  Hitler tells him:  "Rothman, you've saved my life."  The chain-smoking Max has dinner with his mistress.  She is an artist herself and has done many collages.  The couple have sex and then Max leaves. 

Max and Hitler talk again.  Hitler tells Max that he had promised him an art show.  Max denies that he ever said any such thing.  Rothman wants some real works of art from Hitler, not just talk.  Max says:  "Tell me you're the unknown soldier come back to haunt us with your brush."  Speaking about Hitler to Mr. and Mrs. Epp, he says that Hitler is part of what he likes to call "Krieg Kunst" (War Art).  He adds that Hitler is an authentic voice of the trenches, the voice of the everyman, the unknown soldier. 

Max does try to sell some of Hitler's works.  But there is not much to sale.  When he informs the artist that there have been no sales for him, Hitler becomes a little despondent and worried.  He tells Max that he is 30 years of age already.  Max responds:  "You're a bit lazy, Hitler."  Talk less, paint more.  Bring out that inner anger and angst via your painting. 

Max and his friends put on a short play at the art gallery.  Hitler is in the audience.  The play portrays the hero being ground up in a meat grinder.  At the end of the play Hitler shouts:  "It's disgusting.  It's revolting."  Hitler speaks to fellow right-winter Captain Mayr and says about Rothman and the play:  "What a masquerade he puts on.  Rothman made the whole war look small and pointless, ridiculous and absurd."   

Max wants Hitler to meet some women.  Max and his mistress introduce Hitler to a woman they know.  Max's mistress thinks Hitler a vile man.  The future dictator shows no real interest in the women.  Hitler excuses himself, but takes up a hiding place and listens to Max and the women discuss him.  He does not like what he hears (even though Max defended Hitler) and refers to the women as "dirty bitches". 

Captain Mayr tells Hitler about a new political party that has quite a few members:  the National Socialist Party.  A cleaning woman who works for Max tells him that he should go see Hitler talk.  He does.  Hitler rants on about politics being the new art.  But Max still wants to know from Hitler:  Where's the art?  He adds "I'm sorry it did not work out."

One day Max looks at Hitler's drawings of huge building designs and of Nazi uniforms and insignia.  Max is enthused by them.  He tells Hitler that he is the spokesman for "the future as a return to the past".  He tells Adolf that he will display the items.  Speaking to someone else about Hitler's work, he says that the artist has conjured up a whole new world.  He has a coherent vision, including the resurrection of the old German gods. It's pure kitsch, but still interesting. 

Hitler will speak to a crowd of Nazis and others.  He tells Captain Mayr that this will be his last time:  "I'm through."  He says that Rothman is going to give him a show.  Hitler speaks on "The Jewish Question".  Watching Jewish people on the streets, he says he often finds himself wondering "Is this a German?".  He says the Jews have obtained a monopoly in the area of finance and compares them to maggots in a piece of meat, eating it from the inside out. 

Rothman told Hitler to meet him at 9:30 p.m. at the Metropol restaurant.  Hitler shows up, but Rothman does not.  A group of sailors who had attended Hitler's talk beat Rothman severely and leave him lying in the snow with a pool of blood around his head.  Hitler waits for Rothman, but eventually gives up in disgust and leaves the restaurant. 


Pretty good movie.  It felt a bit strange watching Hitler as a struggling artist.  Noah Taylor as Adolf Hitler did a great job and John Cusack as Max Rothman was also good.  Rothman tried to help Hitler, despite Hitler's right-wing views.  Hitler and Rothman are portrayed as getting along as well as one might expect given the obvious differences in the way they looked at the world and that Rothman felt he had to keep on Hitler's back about producing more art work.   The question of the movie is a "what if?"  What if Rothman had survived long enough to turn Hitler away from politics and firmly to art?  But I just don't think there is any doubt about the answer.  It wouldn't have made any difference.  Hitler was going to get into politics one way or the other and art would have fallen by the way side. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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