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If Look Who’s Back had been released in any other year, it would have been a clever, amusing cautionary tale positing an answer to the age-old question: what would happen if Hitler was magically transported, unchanged and unharmed, to modern-day Europe? How would we respond to him now that we know what he’s capable of? And it’s certainly a clever, amusing film. But since it was just released in the US by Netflix in early April, it also reads as an eerily prescient political allegory.
Adolf Hitler (Oliver Masucci) wakes up in 2014 on the site of the Berlin bunker where he died, except not only is he alive, he hasn’t aged a day since 1945. Not surprisingly, he’s confused and disoriented, and after having a time-travel-induced panic attack and then getting maced by a young mother, he’s taken in by a bemused newspaper stand owner. Meanwhile, at a local TV station, a badass ball-buster (Katja Riemann) gets promoted to managing director in place of a smarmy schemer (Christoph Maria Herbst), and a hapless peon (Fabian Busch) gets fired. The peon, Fabian, realizes he’s accidentally shot footage of what he thinks is a Hitler impersonator, so lacking anything better to do, he tracks Hitler down. Fabian is impressed by Hitler’s total commitment to his character and amused by his droll observations on modern life, so he borrows his mother’s flower delivery van and takes Hitler on the road, interviewing the denizens of various small towns across Germany about their thoughts on the current state of the country. Fabian uses the footage to get his job (or at least a job) back at the TV station, where Hitler’s guest appearances on daytime talk shows become an overnight sensation.
Near the end of the film, Fabian discovers, to his horror, that the hilarious TV Hitler he helped bring to national popularity is, in fact, the genuine article. He confronts Hitler, who responds, “Did I ever claim to be anything else?” That line is the most telling part of the film, especially in light of the current election cycle. Hitler’s popularity doesn’t just come from people who think he’s being funny when he details his plan for invading Poland, or when he apologizes for being too tolerant of an elderly Jewish woman he meets (the one person who immediately recognizes him for who he really is). His fans include people who think he’s a satirist, people who don’t get the joke but are afraid of being thought less sophisticated, and people who actually agree with him. As the film suggests, all three types are equally complicit in his rise to stardom. The managing director, Bellini, doesn’t agree with Hitler’s speeches but has zero qualms about giving him a platform simply because he draws an audience. One of her coworkers drunkenly confronts her about this after Hitler’s popularity has taken on a life of its own, and she is completely unfazed; and the end of the film suggests she may come to have an even more important role in Hitler’s life besides his producer.
Look Who’s Back is undeniably funny, but its humor has a sharp, incisive edge to it. The film’s success lies in its ability to make Hitler a comedic fish-out-of-water character, both for us and for the fictional viewers of his TV show, without ever making him sympathetic. The story is completely fantastical, but it answers the question “What if Hitler came back?” in a chillingly believable way.
Ashley Wells watches too many movies and welcomes recommendations for more. Leave her one here or on Twitter: @ashleybwells. Spoiler alert: she has already seen Troll 2.