Thursday, June 18, 2015

Max (2002) ***

The 2002 film Max attracted controversy over its attempt to "humanize" the ultimate symbol of evil in the 20th century - Adolf Hitler. Set in the crucial year of 1919, the time when Hitler first got involved in politics under the sway of racist ideas. Max imagines Hitler as an aspiring artist caught up in modernist movement of the early 20th century, namely dadaism and futurism, and suggests modern art inspired him to enter politics.

John Cusack plays Max Rothman, a Jewish art dealer who lost an arm in the war. Max lives a bourgeois life surrounded by artists, intellectuals, and a loving family.  Enamored with new artistic movements emerging after the war, exemplified by Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, Max sees the possibility of redemption and meaning in the new art. 

Noah Tyler plays Hitler as pitiful and uncompromising.  A veteran of four years on the Western Front, he considers himself a great artist making up for lost time.  Modernism's emphasis on absurdity and irrationality repel his puritanical tastes.  One day he walks into Max's gallery and they discuss what constitutes great art.  Hitler believes art must reinforce moral values, those values he considers essential for the survival of civilization. Rothman argues the artists should challenge conventional values.  Despite Hitler's abrasive nature, Max sees potential and they bond over their time on the Western Front.

Hitler finds another mentor in a German officer who encourages him to enter politics and master another emerging art form - propaganda. Anti-Semitism enters into his ideology and an odd obsession with pseudo scientific ideas of racial purity, which Max implores him to forget because it will kill his creativity.  Max believes all artists must look into the very depths of their soul, a leap Hitler cannot make. 

Later on Max watches Hitler give a speech and is repelled by his racist message and yet captivated at his theatrical approach to rhetoric.  Max sees Hitler's speeches as performance art, a politician applying Dada concepts to rhetoric.  Later on Hitler informs Max, "politics is the new art." And a monster is born.

Written and directed by Menno Meyhes, Max is a worthwhile study of 20th century art, history, and politics. 

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