Film Review: THE MEANING OF HITLER (directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein)

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by Tony Frankel on August 5, 2021

in Film


I’ve heard the term “fascist” floating about for years in America to describe both sides of the political aisle, even as the term used to apply only to the far right. The original term comes from “Fascisti”, the members of an Italian political organization that seized power and controlled Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini from 1922 to 1943. Today, it can apply to any political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. Um, sound familiar? Welcome to America, 2021.

The far left has become a platform for squashing free speech and demanding conformity to the latest oversensitive, easily offended victims. The far right, since and after Trump, utilizes a manifesto of righteousness, religion, and the refusal to adhere to public polices based on social media lies. In the middle of these polarities is the basic hard-working, just trying to survive, kicked-out-of-the-middle-class folks, who are so exhausted from the endless fighting that they’re bowing down to or tuning out from these wedge-inducing voices.

And that’s how Hitler came to be.

In Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein’s newest documentary, The Meaning of Hitler, the focus is on the rise of Nazism, White Supremacy, and anti-Semitism, but the parallels to all things dictatorial in today’s world are eerily familiar. What we see and hear in this gripping, acute film is the showing of a Hitler and his movement generally thought to be true but is not, in fact, true, or is different from how it he is usually described.

Using the structure and title of Sebastian Haffner’s 1978 book, archival footage, and masterful interpretations and insights from historians, it becomes clear that fascism is like cicadas, the insects which borough underneath our feet only to resurge again years later. I can’t think of a more important film to come out this year. Hardly depressing, it is an essayistic master class in history while remaining compelling, vivid, imperative, indispensable … and even practical. As Carl Sagan said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.”

photos courtesy of IFC Films

The Meaning of Hitler
IFC Films
93 mins | in English and German with English subtitles | 2020 | not rated
in limited release and on demand Aug 13, 2021

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