Do Clothes Make the Nazi Sociopath?
DIRECTED BY ROBERT SCHWENTKE/GERMAN/2018 (U.S. Theatrical Release)
It’s the final weeks of World War II, but of course German private Willi Herold (Max Hubacher) and the gun-toting pack of Nazis that are chasing him through the woods don’t know that. Herold has deserted his unit, and only narrowly survives the pursuit. The Fatherland is a wreck of mud and gravel and fatigued civilians and disoriented soldiers wandering about. At this point, the biggest concern isn’t the enemy, but looting.
One might think that when Herold comes upon a Nazi Captain’s abandoned vehicle and uniform, he’d use them to aid in his escape once and for all. Instead, it becomes a worst case scenario of clothes making the man. Almost immediately, a shell shocked single soldier (Milan Peschel, who’s character emerges as a sort of compromised moral center) claiming to have become separated from his unit wanders up to him, pledging his allegiance. And thus, The Captain is born.
Before long, Herold has picked up a small group of scattered soldiers in search of a superior to fall in with. They wind up taking residence at a prison camp where deserters are held. The place is on the brink of chaos when Herold’s crew arrives; it completely goes to hell when he takes over. As a high ranking captain citing completely fabricated secret orders directly from Hitler, Herold proceeds to acquiesce more and more to the morally devoid center of what his uniform represents. Cold, emotionless, and suddenly bloodthirsty, Herold is all too enthusiastic to order the mass executions of many of the prisoners. Had things gone slightly different in his pursuit at the beginning, he’d be a prisoner here, too. Somewhere, not too deeply at the root of this senseless tragedy, there’s a powerful self-loathing playing out. Nevertheless, history tells us that ninety accused deserters were systematically killed by “Executioner of Emsland”.
One might think that when Herold comes upon a Nazi Captain’s abandoned vehicle and uniform, he’d use them to aid in his escape once and for all. Instead, it becomes a worst case scenario of clothes making the man.
Directed and written in his native German language by Robert Schwentke, The Captain is a frighteningly beautiful and altogether compelling historic and moral tale. For Schwentke, who’s work in Hollywood peaked with 2010’s Bruce Willis vehicle, RED, it is far and away his masterpiece. Stunningly photographed in black and white, and unfolding not unlike a well crafted silent film, The Captain is not one to be questioned when it comes to acclaim. Salutes to Schwentke and company for this unfortunately timely tale of how quickly our souls can be swallowed up in an assumed identity, and how willingly people will blindly follow orders.
Resist falling in line with The Captain, but definitely do get in line to see it.
The Captain will be shown at the 2018 Saint Louis International Film Festival:
Nov. 8, 8:00 PM, Plaza Frontenac 6
Nov. 11, 12:15 PM, Plaza Frontenac 6