Hitler Studies

Polanskis The Pianist and Meyjes Max

Taylor's performance is clearly intended to be provocative, designed to liberate Hitler from the jackbooted, toothbrush-mustached clichés his image has accumulated over the years. So it's unfortunate that Taylor's histrionic acting makes of the future Führer a cartoon in its own right. Buried under layers of pallor-inducing makeup, the actor whines and scowls and froths at the mouth, and it doesn't help that Meyjes' screenplay loads him up with declarative topic sentences—"The man has no technique!" "War is the hygiene of the world!" "Politics is the new art!"—that drain away from the movie's central insight, which is that Max and his protégé have one fateful thing in common: They both believe in the future. As a painter Hitler is a failure, but Max comes to see that he is a gifted designer who, for all that he abhors the abstract modernists, has learned much from them. Except that where Max and his Dadaist friends imagine a freer, more liberal and tolerant world to come, Hitler sees the future as a return to some fancied glorious past governed by purity of blood. We know whose vision won, but Meyjes is not alone in suggesting that the Nazi aesthetic was shaped by the modernist aesthetic. Some historians now believe that Hitler was as much a man of his time (not to mention an intellectual autodidact) as he was a rebel against it. Meyjes takes pains to show that Hitler's rise depended upon a disenfranchised and reactionary proletariat, but he can't resist giving the story a last-minute tweak that implies that it was mere chance that shaped Hitler's destiny, and that of European Jewry. In the movie's final scenes, Max and Hitler arrange a meeting to go over Hitler's promising new sketches. For the most urgent of reasons, Max doesn't show. The rest is history—or one idea too many by a writer-director with a penchant for going over the top.

THE PIANIST was directed by ROMAN POLANSKI; Written by RONALD HARWOOD (based on the book by WLADYSLAW SZPILMAN); and produced by POLANSKI, ROBERT BENMUSSA and ALAIN SARDE. MAX was written and directed by MENNO MEYJES; and produced by ANDRAS HAMORI.

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