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The Goebbels Experiment (2005)
|Internet Movie Database|
The 2004 film Downfall, set in Hitlers bunker, at times
makes Hitler seem if not sympathetic, at least comprehensible in a way few films have
dared. His right-hand man, Josef Goebbels, by contrast, is portrayed as pretty much
unremittingly evil, being permitted only one brief moment in which he falters not
because of what hes done, but because the Fuehrer seems to be trying to send him
away, and he refuses to go. Thats the way he comes across in The Goebbels Experiment, too.
The film is a collection of historic and stock footage, narrated through excerpts from Goebbels diary, read by Kenneth Branagh. Thus, its title is somewhat confusing, as its not much more experimental than the average History Channel documentary. Nonetheless, its a fascinating film that provides new insights into Goebbels personality.
And about that personality: The biggest surprise in The Goebbels Experiment is what a whiny, almost bipolar crybaby its subject seems to have been. The journal entries which are read seem to alternate between arrogant triumphalism following each Nazi political victory (frequently joined by a burst of virulent anti-Semitism), and craven self-pity hes forever griping about some perceived slight. Goebbels even sees his new job as propaganda chief, initially, as an attempt to limit his power; he wanted a more explicitly political office. And before the Nazis rise to power, hes even worse, coming across as depressive, racked by self-loathing and as obsessed with money (and the lack of it) as he accuses the Jews of being.
Goebbels almost romantic devotion to Hitler both as a man and a symbol is somewhat shocking, too. At one point, he writes, When the Fuehrer leaves, I stay behind, feeling sad. This is the attitude of a teenage girl, not the propaganda minister for
The Goebbels Experiment weirdly omits any mention of Triumph Of The Will, the single greatest propaganda achievement of the Nazi era. Obviously, as Hitlers propaganda chief, Goebbels had a large role in the commissioning and distribution of the film, but he hated director Leni Riefenstahl, so director Lutz Hachmeister chose to omit whatever he said about the movie. He does bash her a bit in journal entries from 1936, while she was filming Olympiad; this is juxtaposed with footage of him, stone-faced, giving her an award for the film a year later.
Kenneth Branagh played Reinhard Heydrich in the 2001 cable movie Conspiracy, about the Nazis Wannsee Conference at which the Holocaust was planned, and he does an excellent job narrating The Goebbels Experiment. He adopts a very slight German accent, but never lapses into cartoon villainy. Instead, he allows the pure venom and evil of Goebbels own words to come through unadorned, exposed to the world. The power of the film is that even with all we know about the Nazis, we persist in believing that they were on some level understandable. The Goebbels Experiment reveals its subject as a psychopath, so totally remote from his fellow men and so purely a self-interested predator that its like reading the diary of the creature from Alien.
- Phil Freeman