Saturday, April 14, 2007

Max and Personal Responsibility

This originally appeared my main blog about six months ago.

Some time back, Inklings wrote a blog that has stuck with me, and out of which several good discussions with "real life" friends have since grown, as well as the excellent thoughts shared in the discussions around my other blog site about that topic. In that blog, Inklings talks about life's unfairness, and about personal responsibility, and how we always have a choice in what we do with what we are given.

About the time I read that article by Inklings, I had recently seen the 2002 film Max, starring John Cusack and Noah Taylor. The DVD's cover has a line that becomes important in the film: "ART+POLITICS=POWER." The film's story centres around Hitler's need to make a choice between politics and art as a life path. I guess we know, from history, what he chooses. But the suggestion seems to be there -- he could've chosen otherwise, and the world would've been so different if he had.

What I first heard about the movie some time back (besides that Cusack was in it) was that it is a sympathetic look at Hitler. I don't know if "sympathetic" is precisely the word I'd use, but it is a look at what might have gone into forming Hitler into the creature he became. It examines the conditions in post-war Germany: the poverty of many of the soldiers, the racism and propaganda going on, the extreme class distinctions between rich and poor -- the whole deal. It also looks at Modernism in art, and how so many within that movement sought to divorce politics from art, ignoring the things going on around them. This impetus forces the decision that it seems Hitler "must" make in the film -- art or politics. In the end, of course, it is demonstrated that his real goal was power, and he seeks to meld art and politics into a means of gaining power. "Politics is the new art!" he shouts over and over in the film, to a very chilling effect.

But what I like about the movie -- at least one of the things -- is that it doesn't let the man off the hook for what he did. The movie shows the social forces that went into the making of the monster, if you want to look at it that way, but it also shows that the man was personally responsible for what he became. There were social forces at work, the film recognizes. But it is also the irresponsible use, by Hitler in the film, of his own art and politics, that ultimately leads him to make the decisions he does. It seems to demonstrate that there was a choice, and in the exercise of a single choice, he set out down a path from which he never turned back.

It was a chilling film, and has stayed quite close to the centre of my thoughts these several months since watching it. I especially liked, when I saw it, how it intermingled with the thoughts Inklings presented in her blog about taking responsibility for the directions that we do take in life, rather than sitting back and whining about things.

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