Nowadays, the very abbreviation SS invokes in most people the horrifying images of concentration camps, piles of corpses being pushed down the pit with bulldozers and the black smoke rising over camps’ crematoriums. Therefore, it comes as not a particular surprise that SS officers are generally assumed to have been some kind of monsters – sadistically minded criminals, who used to derive the pleasure of torturing and murdering Jews.
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Nevertheless, such a popular perception of SS officers has very little to do with what most of these people were in real life. After all, before 1939, 85% of members of SS consisted of university graduates. Moreover, before the beginning of WW2, 70% of high-ranking SS officers were the individuals that held PhDs in different sciences.
And, of course, the image of a university professor does not quite correlate with the image of some bloodthirsty maniac. In its turn, this poses a question – how could well-educated and intelligent people end up being involved in designing policies, aimed at the extermination of millions and millions of people?
The watching of Amorim’s 2008 film Good provides a partial answer to this question, as it portrays the gradual transformation of a good-natured literature professor John Halder (Viggo Mortensen), whose best friend used to a Jewish psychologist Maurice Glückstein (Jason Isaacs), into nothing short of an accomplice of Adolf Eichmann himself.
And, whatever the ironically it might sound – such his transformation has initially been triggered by Halder’s desire to ease the suffering of terminally ill people. As it appears from the movie, in 1933 Halder wrote a novel, in which husband decides to help his incurably ill wife to pass away, without having to experience an acute physical pain – while considering it an utterly humane gesture, on his part, he simply gives the woman some poison to swallow.
Given the fact that themes and motifs, contained in Halder’s novel, exposed the very premise of euthanasia in a favorable light, Nazis were quick to single it out as something capable of promoting their agenda, concerned with ridding Germany of ‘social undesirables’ – mentally handicapped citizens. As a result, Halder was offered an honorary rank in SS, which he hesitantly accepted, as being the part of the new German elite would provide a powerful boost to his academic career.
We believe that how the movie portrays Halder’s conversion to Nazism is being truly representative of how, during the thirties, several German professors have switched to the ‘dark side,’ without being fully aware of what would be the actual consequences of such their decision. Even though most of them intensely disliked Hitler, because of his cheap populism and primitive rhetoric, they nevertheless did not mind affiliating themselves with SS, as essentially the club of uniformed intellectuals.
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There is a memorable scene in the film, when Halder explains his failure to join Nazi party by suggesting that he could never imagine himself marching in columns and waving flags, which was interpreted as yet additional proof of Halder’s eligibility to join SS – whatever the ironically it might sound: “You won’t have to run around with a gun in your hands, no.
We are interested in recruiting the better kind of people… the specialists in their field, such as yourself” (00.26.11). The Nazification of Germany’s academic domain was much more complex of a process than it is commonly assumed. There is another interesting aspect to the movie, in a sense that it provides viewers with the insight on why most Germans did not resist Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies.
It appears that this came as the result of their willingness to rationalize anti-Semitism as essentially the price of enjoying a comfortable living. The validity of this suggestion can be explored in regards to film’s scene in which Halder tries to convince Maurice that he should not be growing too anxious over being deprived of social rights, due to being a Jew: “Listen, if you really think everything is so bleak, why don’t you go abroad for a couple of years, until things settle? There are many countries where you can practice. You have no ties here” (00.42.15). While experiencing emotional discomfort, on account of his friend being reduced to nothing less of a sub-human, Halder nevertheless managed to suppress its psychological anxieties over what Maurice was going through.
The same can be said about most Germans, who despite being unable to accept anti-Semitism on emotional level had accepted it as a rationale-driven state policy. After all, Halder’s new wife Anne used to address Maurice’s fears in essentially the same ignorant manner. In the scene where Halder tells her of his concerns about what is going to happen to Maurice, Anne proves herself particularly cold-hearted: “He [Maurice] can take care of himself.
He hasn’t got a family. Would you risk everything we have for him?” (00.73. 21). The foremost reason why the Holocaust had occurred in the first place is that Hitler managed to switch off basic humanity in Germans. This explains why, even though most of them continued to think of Hitler’s anti-Semitism with contempt, it did not prevent them from becoming fully affiliated with Nazi agenda – it appears that the taste of being considered super-humans simply proved little too irresistible to German people.
The soundness of this claim can be well illustrated in regards to film’s scene where, while trying to buy a ticket to Paris for the second time, Halder having proven to possess the mentality of a true Nazi. When addressing ticket seller’s request to be shown an official confirmation that is indeed being allowed to travel to France, Halder simply pulls out his SS card and says: “Tell me… do you enjoy working in the field of transportation? Would you like to be sent building autobahns for free?” (00.70.52).
In one of the consequential scenes, where Halder puts on his SS uniform (00.73.49), we get to observe an unmistakable expression of pleasure on professor’s face – after having experienced the taste of unrestricted power; he became intellectually corrupted beyond the point of recovery.
Thus, it will not be much of an exaggeration on our part to suggest that, unlike what it is the case with most American movies that explore the origins of Nazism, Good can be the least referred to as formulaic. This is what constitutes its foremost value as a cinematographic piece.
After having watched it, people get to realize that it is not only inheritable wicked individuals who can be Nazis but very often the most outstanding members of society. This is exactly the reason why Nazism is so dangerous – apparently, the mere exposure to this ideology for continuous period turns otherwise normal people into potential perpetrators of genocide.
Good. Dir. Vicente Amorim. Perfs. Viggo Mortensen, Jason Isaacs, Jodie Whittaker. Aramid Enterntainment. 2008.