The historical recreation of the 1942 Wannsee Conference, in which Nazi and SS leaders gathered in a Berlin suburb to discuss the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. Lead by SS-General Reinhard Heydrich, this group of high ranking German officials came to the historic and far reaching decision that the Jews of Europe were to be exterminated in what would come to be known as the Holocaust.
Rating: 7.9/10 (10,326 votes)
Director: Frank Pierson
Writer: Loring Mandel
Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Clare Bullus, Stanley Tucci, Simon Markey
Runtime: 96 min
Genre: Drama, History, War
Released: 19 May 2001
We watched this movie via Amazon Prime Saturday night. We were just surfing, and gave it a try, and it turned out to be a pretty decent movie, and well worth a thoughtful watching.
This movie could have been entitled, “how to chair a board meeting” or “how not to chair a board meeting” – given that the outcome of the meeting was the “final solution”. Gen. Heidrich with consummate skill and care manipulated the gathered Nazi hierarchy to the pre-arranged and pre-destined solution to the Jewish question.
The Wannsee conference is not the place and time where Nazi Germany decided to commit the Holocaust. The Holocaust had been going on for some time by January 1942, the time of the conference. Dachau had been in business for years. The SS Einsatzkommandos had already marched into Poland and Russia, gunning down Jewish men, women, and children by the hundreds of thousands. Even the extermination camps had already opened for business. Hermann Göring, at Hitler’s direction, had already given the order to go ahead with the Final Solution of the Jewish Question.
Thus, the purpose of the conference is not to decide on whether to murder the Jews of Europe. That decision already having been made, the conference is called so Reinhard Heydrich, as chief of the SD and second-in-command to Himmler in the SS, can ram the decision down the throat of the rest of the German government. The interesting thing is the other German leaders’ reaction. Many applaud, some object to the wastage of Jews whom they consider more valuable as slaves than as corpses, some favor sterilization instead of murder, and some get physically sick. But, enthusiastically or grudgingly, they all accept.
The well-deserved demonization of Adolf Hitler has the regrettable side effect of obscuring the evil of his cronies and subordinates from anyone but historians, like a baleful sun whose light obscures the stars. Below the level of Hitler, the public’s view of the German government dissolves into an amorphous mass called `Nazis,’ the interchangeable automatons of the Führer. If the movie achieves nothing else, it will put Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann on the map as villains in their own right, not mere extensions of Hitler. Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Heydrich, the `Blond Beast,’ is unnerving; he is the personification of that ruthless will, impervious to either reason or human feeling, which Hitler admired. This performance would be a star-making turn for a young actor; for Branagh, it is routine, maybe even a bit below average for this amazing performer.
CONSPIRACY individualizes the Nazis at the conference, and shows the different facets of evil. Tellingly, Colin Firth’s Wilhelm Stuckart is one of the least repulsive characters present, even though he is the architect of the barbaric Nuremberg Laws which forced Jews out of the professions and decreed death for any Jew who should marry an Aryan. He, at least, is one of the few who has the courage to stand up to Heydrich, if only for a little while, and resist the SS thugs’ insistence on mass murder. His insistence that Jews must be oppressed only according to the strict letter of the law is insane, absurd, but it is a principle, which is more than most of these people have. Klopfer, Martin Bormann’s lackey, is the most disgusting man present, even if he can’t match Heydrich for pure evil; not even the veneer of civilization is left on him, and he shows sadistic pleasure at the thought of murdering the Jews. Other reactions range from zealously uncritical compliance with orders, to cheerful indifference, to a sort of put-upon resentment that the work of extermination is falling on them.
But the most disturbing character is Kritzinger, secretary of the Reich chancellery, the only person present who wants not to be a murderer. He is not, as some think, the only one present who realizes that what they’re doing is wrong; even Heydrich knows that, as can be seen by his careful precautions to keep the crime secret. But while the others all want to get away with what they know is wrong, Kritzinger doesn’t want to do it at all. Still, after being privately browbeaten and threatened by Heydrich, he states his support for the murders.
Any honest person watching the film must ask himself — How would I respond if I were at that table? How would I respond if I were a German citizen in the Third Reich? Americans, I believe, should look at this film as a warning. First, we throw around the phrase, “like Nazis” all to frequently, and second, there is rhetoric and belief in this country to treat some groups much as the Nazis treated the Jews and Gays. There is groundwork in place. The propaganda, the denial of the facts and the demonization of our enemies. The blind nationalism. We are at a turning point in our country — and we would be wise to look to history as a reminder of what can happen when we as human beings let fear, ego, and the lust for power dominate over all else.
I’m rating it pretty high, but click on the stars to tell us what you think of the film.