Critics are up in arms over Mel Gibson’s next film, declaring that the director’s anti-Semitic bias fuels his German-language epic, The Passion of the Führer. Gibson maintains that his picture, chronicling the last 12 hours in the life of the Austrian painter-turned-dictator Adolph Hitler, is faithful to the book “Mien Kampf” and other historical records, and that critics are looking for anti-Semitism where there is none to be found.
For example, Gibson cites a flashback depicting Mama Hitler being neglected by a big-nosed Jewish doctor as “historical record,” and denies that Hitler even had any prejudice against the Jews. What’s more, the period of Hitler’s life where he was a starving art student in Vienna has been depicted as the time when he first encountered anti-Semitic literature.
“At that time, people didn’t know what to believe,” Gibson said in an interview with Diane Sawyer last week. “They [the Austrians] were looking for anyone to blame for the social ills at the turn of the century. Bosnians, Serbs, Croats; it’s no surprise that they eventually turned to the Jews as well. But don’t we all want someone to blame for our own failings?”
Gibson states that scenes involving Hitler’s rise to power were “tastefully done,” including the slaughter of several hundred “enemies” during the “Night of Long Knives” and the “supposedly staged Reichstag fire”, which the director claims (as did the Nazis) was started by a Dutch arsonist and not the Nazis themselves in a ploy to gain more power.
“You’ve really got to go back to that time, to understand why they needed to have absolute power. Germany had just lost the First World War; they needed someone to make them feel good again. Hitler did that, and that’s what I try to show.”
Perhaps the film’s most controversial section shows the beginnings of the Second World War (Gibson blames the British for “forcing Hitler’s hand”) and the death camps in eastern Europe. “I believe Hitler didn’t know the Holocaust was going on,” Gibson reiterated in the Sawyer interview. “He was busy with a two-front war and trying to negotiate with the Brits and Americans so they could face the real threat of Russia. I think the fact that Europe was divided after the war into democracies and Soviet satellite states shows you how right he was. He couldn’t possibly keep up with a little thing like detaining the Jews.”
Robert Lyman, a representative of the Anti-Defamation League, sees things differently. “Mr. Gibson is playing fast and loose with the facts. He’s putting Hitler on a pedestal and saying that it was O.K. to go after the ‘Christ-killers’.”
Gibson admitted that, while Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Dachau existed as non-denominational concentration camps, any deaths there were “purely coincidental accidents.”
The film concludes with a bloody Hitler being killed by his most trusted aides in the Berlin bunker (contradicting historical sources that Hitler committed suicide). The last twenty minutes of Hitler’s life, as depicted in the film, involve an elaborate crucifixion that most historians have blasted as wildly inaccurate, and seems to blame the Jews. Gibson defends his view of the Führer’s last hours as “artistic license” and claims that, after a special screening for Nazi war criminals hiding in Argentina, most agreed, “It is as it was.”
The Passion of the Führer is set for release this Christmas season, and stars John Travolta as Adolph Hitler, Paris Hilton as Eva Braun, Bob Hoskins as Winston Churchill, Roberto Benigni as Benito Mussolini, and Morgan Freeman as God (reprising his Bruce Almighty role to appear to Hitler in a dream, where he calls for lebensraum in the East). The wicked Jews were designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and Industrial Light & Magic (respectively handling the puppetry and C.G.I. effects). The screenplay was written by Mel Gibson and his miniature schnauzer, Goldie.