Adapting the holocaust to film has been a grave challenge for many filmmakers.How does someone depict human suffering on an unimaginable scale? There have been a wide variety of films handling this very heavy and tragic subject matter.Life Is Beautiful and Jakob The Liar are stories of people remaining strong under the worst of conditions.Schindler’s List and The Pianist show us the sympathetic side of human nature.The Soviet production Come And See which I consider to be the most disturbing film ever made, display the cold and abysmal reality of what took place.Documentary films such as Genocide and Shoah give us the truth, which sometimes can be more haunting than fiction.
Side note: Genocide is honestly my favorite documentary film of all time.It’s told almost entirely in photographs and still shots.The bulk of the narration regarding events is done by Orson Welles, while eyewitness testimony is read by Elizabeth Taylor.It’s a really powerful film, and worth the watch.
Which brings me to the 2001 film Conspiracy.Unlike some of the films I mentioned earlier, this one isn’t about the suffering of the victims within the camps or the brutality of the criminals.It’s a look into the psychology and mindset of the men who perpetrated one the of the largest genocides in the history of the world.The film is based upon the Wannsee conference held in 1942, Where several heads of the interior ministry of the Third Reich would meet and organize the groundwork for the “final solution.”
The 2 key figures present at this conference were Reinhard Heydrich who’s portrayed by Kenneth Branagh, and Adolf Eichmann, portrayed by Stanley Tucci.Branagh is without a doubt one of my favorite actors.His performance in this film is nothing short of remarkable.Vain,cold and calculating I’d easily consider this one of most chilling performances.
The film was shot on location in the actual conference room, and with most of the dialogue taken from the one surviving copy of the meeting itinerary.It’s almost frightening to see the events that took place on this day in 1942 brought to life.As the meeting continues, they discuss the planned mass exterminations with a light heartedness that matter-of-fact demeanor.Which is one of the reasons this film is as powerful as it is.If they were inhuman creatures or monsters completely incapable of rational thought and emotion, it would be almost considered natural.However, this was certainly not the case.
When we stop to think that these were ordinary human beings like ourselves, it resonates with us in a way very few things do.These men sat at a table, wined,dined and played god with the lives of millions.Without a single bit of remorse or even giving a thought to what the consequences to their actions might be.In this film there is a horror, completely psychological and very real.
When Josef Stalin said “If one person dies it’s a tragedy, When six million die it’s a statistic” he seemed to capture the mindset of men like this in a very truthful way.