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With Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Russia’s neighboring country, Ukraine, and the tactics he is employing to wage this war, both on the propaganda front and on the battlefield, many parallels are being drawn between this humanitarian crisis, and the Second World War. In the early days of the invasion, as gunfire and missiles began exploding over the country, it was already clear to senior U.S. defense officials that the world, and specifically Europe, had not seen a military move of this scope since WWII. The Ukrainian government’s official Twitter account even tweeted a political cartoon of Adolf Hitler proudly caressing the cheek of a small Vladimir Putin, saying that this was now the world’s new reality. And now, as Ukraine’s war with Russia is about to enter its fourth week, Joe Biden has delivered his most damning condemnation of Putin’s actions.
War Movies & Crazy Dictators
On Wednesday, March 16th, 2022, the President of the United States called the President of Russia a “war criminal.” This comment would surely not be taken lightly – nor was it meant to be. The Kremlin, essentially Russia’s White House, has regarded Biden’s statement as “unforgivable,” saying that the U.S. has no moral standing to make such a claim, due to our use of nuclear weapons at the end of WWII. It should be noted, by the way, that Putin has, himself, threatened the use of nuclear weapons during this conflict with Ukraine, a move globally condemned. Trevor Noah of, ‘The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,’ even hit back at the Kremlin’s counterargument, saying, “Seriously, Russia, you’re gonna bring up something America did in the ‘40s?” And while Mr. Noah has a point, that the Kremlin’s comparison is an entirely baseless one, his reference to the events of the 1940s as something seemingly insignificant, or as having nothing to do with today, is simply inaccurate. I would even argue that regarding the nuclear annihilation of two Japanese cities – carried out by the U.S. – as just, “something America did [a long time ago],” is actually a little insensitive, both to Japan and the United States.
No nation has ever known pain as that which was inflicted on Japan, and that very pain was in retaliation for an act of war against the U.S. Furthermore, let’s not forget, those incidents were direct results of the genocide of over eleven million people. So yes, Trevor, not only should we all talk about it now, we’ve all been talking about it since it happened.
A society’s culture is representative of its mind, and its psychology. For decades, not only has WWII been studied and deliberated over and over in academia, but also in pop culture. WWII, Nazis, and even Hitler, specifically, have all found their way into books, cartoons, movies, television shows (fictional and nonfictional), and even video games. Now, the question is why? Why are we and should we be hung up on a global catastrophe that occurred over seventy-five years ago? Countless veterans, survivors, and monuments have all told us to “never forget,” but is our inclusion of the events and people of WWII into our fantasies, our fiction, our entertainment almost some kind of perverse fetishization of mankind at our most horrific and grotesque? Rather, I would argue that these reflections are actually therapeutic for our culture, and much like trauma therapy itself, necessary to truly move on in a productive manner and to ensure this kind of devastation never happens again.
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One of the most well-known examples of Nazis, WWII, and even Hitler, himself making it into the zeitgeist (German for “culture of a specific time”), is the critically-acclaimed, 2009, Tarantino film, ‘Inglourious Basterds.’ This film, starring Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, and Eli Roth, depicted a group of Jewish soldiers committing acts of retributive violence against the Nazis in 1944. The writer/director, Quentin Tarantino, a father of Cinema, known for his stylized profanity and excessive violence, chose to position the Nazi party as the central target of his animosity because they are real-life villains. Having taken heavy criticism over the years for his depictions of women and ethnic minorities in his gritty films, Tarantino opted to focus on a historically antagonizing group of people – arguably the worst.
How could people take issue with his characters bashing in the brains of Nazis, branding their faces with ironic swastikas, and generally just blowing them to Hell? Furthermore, the film also follows assassination attempts against Adolf Hitler, and in an act of defiant catharsis against what actually happened, Tarantino wrote Hitler’s successful assassination into the movie, effectively murdering one of the most vile figures in all of global history (in narrative terms).
Killing Hitler is one of those timeless moral quandaries. I remember being asked by my schoolmates as a child, whether or not I would be able to kill baby Hitler if given the chance. It’s a question of whether or not it is right to take a life, even if that life will go on to cause so much death and destruction. And while the fact that our children are asking each other this grotesque question on their playgrounds is a little off-putting, it seems our fascination with this hypothetical scenario (which Tarantino gladly carried out), extends well into adulthood, and fascinates us some 133 years after Hitler’s very birth. Netflix’s sci-fi anthology series, ‘Love, Death, and Robots,’ currently has two seasons, totaling thirty-four episodes altogether. These episodes each cover a different story with different (but sometimes similar) themes, with different characters throughout. Some episodes are animated, others are live-action. One episode, in particular, released with season one in 2019, features an animated Adolf Hitler. Hitler-s, to be precise.
The eight-minute episode, titled, ‘Alternate Histories,’ follows Hitler through alternate timelines, through which the audience gets the pleasure of watching him die over and over, in various creative ways. Not only is this the second example of a work of narrative fiction (now in TV & in film) depicting the death of Hitler differently from how it actually happened, this is now an entire episode dedicated to the premise. Even though killing people is wrong, Netflix clearly believed there was an audience more than willing to watch them kill our favorite-least-favorite crazy dictator over and over and over.
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‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot’
There’s a long line of famous mustaches. Tom Selleck, Sam Elliott, Burt Reynolds, Freddie Mercury, even I have one. However, there is one iconic mustache that we all know and recognize for all the wrong reasons. There has been an embargo placed on the toothbrush-style mustache that will likely last throughout all of human time. Despite the affable Charlie Chaplin sporting the ‘stache, and even delivering a harrowing monologue condemning dictators in response to Hitler, Hitler still corners the market for that specific style. However, one film, quietly released in 2018, put two of the world’s most famous mustaches on a path of direct conflict with each other. ‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot,’ stars Sam Elliott as a retired American assassin, responsible for killing the one and only Adolf Hitler. And while the movie follows this unsung American hero’s coming out of retirement to hunt and kill the mythical Bigfoot for the U.S. government, this movie serves as another clear preoccupation with Nazis, WWII, and the fantasization of Hitler’s murder. For those of you who have not seen this movie, which I bet is most of you, I highly recommend you give it a watch. I know the title is a little eyebrow-raising, but I promise it’s a hidden classic, especially in light of the proposed origins of the COVID-19 pandemic (which occurred two years after the release of this film).
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While WWII and all coinciding tragedies are moments in time that deserve careful consideration, reflection, reverence, and respect, taking creative liberties from and with that time should be welcomed and celebrated. While we need to be mindful that our cathartic obsession with violently murdering Adolf Hitler, the evilest man the world has ever known, does not idolize or glorify violence, it is necessary for our society to grow and mature beyond our adolescent impulses for hate, death, and war. We have recognized the worst of ourselves as a society, and we must continue to confront and condemn them. Whether it’s Tarantino’s hyper violence and extreme prejudice towards them, Indiana Jones melting all of their faces off, or Al Pacino straight-up murdering them in Amazon’s ‘Hunters,’ pop-culture’s preoccupations against Nazis and Nazism are sort of growing pains.
We have realized the worst in humanity, seen ourselves at our lowest, our most traumatized. And in writing and screenwriting, death and the killing of a character is the clearest, most concrete, narrative, thematic condemnation of them, their actions, and all that they represent. And while recreating trauma is a symptom of the trauma-tized, exposure and reflection are both inherent factors in any kind of therapy. So continuing to dwell on and kill Nazis in ‘Call of Duty,’ or any other fictional material, not only helps us to make sure we never forget, but also allows us to come face to face with, and confront humanity’s own demons, especially when those demons are wearing that toothbrush mustache.
By Connor Garvin
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Connor Garvin has been a writer for as long as he can remember. Writing has enabled him to distill the thoughts within his own head, as well as allowed him to have those same thoughts heard. Connor is a screenwriter, and filmmaker more generally, with a focus on television. He also believes that real change only occurs if everyone is heard, and is therefore a proud champion of the arts, and a kindred spirit to The Hollywood Insider and its values.