Look Who’s Back (2015)
Director: David Wnendt
Synopsis: Adolf Hitler wakes up in modern Germany and becomes a media sensation.
Overview: Look Who’s Back is structured like Borat or Bruno — a mix of scripted scenes and those of the main character interacting with the public. The entertainment, of course, comes from the public’s reaction to the eccentric figure at the centre of the movie. However, unlike those films and their heightened stereotype main characters, the protagonist of Look Who’s Back is Adolf Hitler.
Waking up in a park in 2014 Berlin, Hitler finds himself transported in time to a world he doesn’t recognise, one full of advanced technology and, to his eyes, weak and humiliating politicians. He quickly pairs up with a filmmaker and the two embark on a road trip both to film Hitler’s unscripted interactions with everyday people and also to exploit the inherent comedy of Hitler doing things.
The first act of the movie leans heavily on this formula, with long montages of Hitler talking to common Germans about politics, inter-cut with scenes of him struggling to walk in heavy wind or getting stung by a bee. Because of Hitler’s status as someone who casts a huge shadow over history it is funny seeing him doing anything other than what we’re used to seeing him do, i.e. give speeches. What is less funny, and what becomes more central to the movie as it goes on, are the reactions of the German people to meeting Hitler and talking to him. When I read that the movie was made from real-life interactions and fictionalised scenes, I had in my head a very different movie. I assumed more comedy, and more Germans being shocked or outraged at meeting with their national shame walking around in 2014. Instead, we see that when Hitler asks people about politics they inevitably come back with something about their problems with Islam, immigration, or Muslims. This is not new. We only have to turn on the news or read a paper or listen to a speech by any number of far-Right, or in some cases just Right, politicians or pundits to see that this issue is what is dominating people’s thoughts and dictating their politics. What is new is seeing someone talk about how immigrants should be put in labor camps — and talking about it directly to Hitler.
As the movie progresses, the film shifts focus to its fictional story, in which Hitler — having become a media sensation as a satirist– ends up writing a second book and starring in the movie adaptation. Meanwhile, his filmmaker friend slowly begins to realise the truth: That this man claiming to be Hitler might not just be a very good imitator, but he might be the man himself.
The movie is not subtle in either its humour or its political warnings. We get scenes of Hitler dropping off his uniform at the dry cleaners and then having to wear a lemon polo and mom jeans, for instance. But we also get scenes of him drinking and talking with actual Neo-Nazis who swear their allegiance to him and the cause. The movie manages to show that, while Hitler makes for a good punching bag, he also continues to represent something dangerous gaining traction around the world.
Of course with these part-scripted, part-improvised films, you have to be suspicious of the editing and cherry picking of interviews, yet the sheer number of Germans greeting Hitler like an old friend is horrifying and the things people say while they know they are on camera talking to someone who does an excellent Hitler impression is both telling and worrying. Luckily, there are a few dissenters and it is heartening to watch a man tell Hitler off and see others giving him the finger. The scripted parts of the movie pick up the slack, too, by seeing Hitler, in separate scenes, beaten by fictional neo-Nazis and pepper sprayed.
Overall, Look Who’s Back is not as funny as I had assumed but still full of interesting moments and a few hilarious scenes, especially a shot for shot reenactment of Hitler’s meltdown from the German film Downfall, but with a TV producer in his place. The movie serves as a cautionary tale about evil’s ascendance to power and is about as subtle as throwing a rock wrapped in a neon sign through someone’s window. That said, it is effective and offers up some chilling interactions between regular Germans and a man claiming to be Adolf Hitler. In today’s political climate, it is a stark reminder of what kind of people rise to power when everyone’s greatest fear is people who don’t look like them.
Featured Image: Constantin Film