Hitler for the Holidays

Forget about Springtime -- these days it’s Yuletide for Hitler and Germany.

The people at “Ad Age” aren’t alone in trying to figure out why the Third Reich is such a popular Holiday theme this year (and in previous years, as with “Black Book” and “The Good German,”  but not to this extent) on the big screen.

On Christmas Day two Nazi-related movies will be opening: Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie,” with Tom Cruise as a Nazi officer involved in the real-life plot to assassinate the Fuehrer, and Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of the Bernhard Schlink bestseller “The Reader,” in which Kate Winslet plays a former SS camp guard who after the war has a fling with a 15-year-old. Already in the theaters is “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” about the friendship between the son of a concentration camp commandant and a Jewish inmate. And movies upcoming for the New Year include “Defiance,” a true story in which Daniel Craig portrays one of two three Jewish brothers who lead a partisan group harrying the German Army in Poland, and “Good,” in which Viggo Mortensen plays a professor who, “Conformist”-like, is seduced into the Nazi Party.

Bring the kids!

After so many Iraq War movies have bitten the dust you have to wonder why the studios think movies about a far more horrible historical catastrophe will mix well with the joys of gift-giving, wassailing and Auld Lang Syne. Then again, perhaps a lot of people these days don’t associate World War II and Nazi genocide with real life, but with other movies on the subject. "New York Times" film critic A.O. Scott, for one, suggests that Holocaust movies have just become another genre, like zombie movies or rom coms, formulaic exercises designed to entertain and placate common anxieties.

And the means of doing so appear to be a kind of  homeopathic therapy. If you look at the movies released last year at this time, they were no walk in the park, either. Like “The Savages,” about caring for a parent with dementia, or “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” about living with total paralysis. On the lighter side you could check out “Sweeney Todd” (serial killing) or “Charlie Wilson’s War” (the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) and that popular comedy about unwed teenaged pregnancy, “Juno.”

I guess the dynamic involved is countering real life dreads (these days being the economy, the environment, terrorism, the political future of Sarah Palin, etc) with big screen bugaboos that reflect fears either safely buried in the distant past or which have been so thoroughly incorporated by movie conventions and clichés that they are rendered painless.

Indeed, this season’s Nazis and World War II horrors seem not so bad after all. I mean, how bad could the SS be if it could turn out a hot babe like Winslet, who is nude almost throughout the picture? How evil could the Third Reich have been if they could count among their number a hero like eye-patched Tom Cruise putting his life on the line to do in Hitler?

As for genocide, there’s payback as we get a chance to kick Nazi ass in the form of 007 Daniel Craig’s avenging Jewish partisan in “Defiance.” It might mollify outrage at the enormity of the Holocaust — which anyway  in “Boy in the Striped Pajamas” comes off as a kind of a really sad family melodrama.

So as you stare economic disaster in the face this holiday season, buck up. Things have been worse before, and look at what entertaining movies they make today!

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