So this is what a rhetorical question looks like on the big screen. In his controversial Max, director Menno Meyjes focuses on Adolf Hitler’s post-WWI years as a struggling artist with the hope of explaining how the Führer’s passion for the arts informed the theatricality and kitsch of the Nazi movement. Though its reputation precedes it, this fictionalized portrait of a pre-political Hitler’s relationship with one-armed Jewish art dealer Max Rothman (John Cusack) is unlikely to offend anyone expecting to see the Führer’s human side. As played by Noah Taylor, the Hitler seen here is thoroughly reduced by his repulsive behavior—he’s gangly, effete, sickly and even a little sensitive to the touch. Max is smothered and crippled by Meyjes’s tedious dissertation on the arts, a chaos theory implicit in the film’s industrial settings though one he egregiously and self-consciously references with every word of his spoken dialogue. Max classifies and reduces the world around him like a reliable comedian while his wife has an uncanny ability to drown him in rhetoric (“You look pensive,” she says while striking a pose near a ballet pole.) Was Hitler some mad, reverse futurist experimenting with war pictorally or did his paintings suggest the hands of a traditionalist concerned with the representation of natural law? The tedium of Meyjes’s discourse is overwhelming but certainly not as much as the preposterous comedy by which he repeatedly foreshadows the holocaust bubbling on the horizon. “It’s inhuman what they’re doing to these birds,” says Hitler staring at a nightingale locked inside a cage. Hitler says he’d kill for Max if it meant being in the spotlight as one of his featured artists. And when Max introduces Adolf to his wife and fellow associate, the associate flippantly says he’s never heard of him. “Oh, you will,” says Max. If you can make your way past the blinding metaphors and ridiculous CGI overheads, you may just be able to make out Meyjes winking at his audience. In one scene, Hitler gets to literally spell it all out for the spectator, scribbling “Art + Politics = Power” on a piece of paper. What will Hitler do when he’s caught between a rock and hard place and is forced to choose between painting on a canvas or painting people with propaganda? Meyjes successfully elevates the film’s final moments to the level of performance art though he curiously suggests that irony killed six million undesirables at the command of Hitler.
- Lions Gate Films
- 106 min
- Menno Meyjes
- Menno Meyjes
- John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Leelee Sobieski, Molly Parker, Ulrich Thomsen, David Horovitch, Janet Suzman, András Stohl, Peter Capaldi, Kevin McKidd
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