It would have been surprising if Noah Taylor hadn’t had a few qualms about playing the Adolph Hitler seen in MAX. Rather than the madman behind the Holocaust, Hitler here is a rather pathetic creature, standing in bread lines along with so much of the rest of the German population after WWI. When we spoke by phone on January 20, 2002, that was one of the things we discussed. Soft-spoken but intense, Taylor had obviously pondered the deeper significance of the film, but he also had some interesting things to say about film acting in general and about his other film, the sequel to LAURA CROFT.
As an exercise in ethics, people have been known to ponder the morality of going back in time to kill Hitler before he rose to power and committed any crimes against humanity. Some though, to adhere to the polar opposite sort of principles that Hitler espoused, thought a much more effective way to stop him before he started would have been to buy one of his paintings when he was a starving artist after World War I, thus sending down a different road. Neat, tidy, and no blood on anyones hands. Of course, the socio-political situation of Germany after its defeat in the self-styled War to End All Wars was such that the loss, one way or another, of one disaffected madman wouldn’t necessarily have changed much of anything except the names in the history books. Both issues are dealt with in Menno Meyjes’ MAX, a film that is bound to generate a storm of verbiage for its portrayal of Hitler as the starving artist and his would-be mentor, Jewish gallery owner Max Rothman.
Meyjes’ film deals more with philosophical truth than actual events. He sets up for contrast and comparison two veterans, the well-to-do Max Rothman, a composite of the cultural elite shell-shocked by World War I, and Hitler, a homeless corporal with no real future.
MAX is a thoughtful and thought-provoking film. It is also a brave film, showing Hitler as a pathetic cog in a larger machine hurtling inevitably towards the Holocaust. And yet, it’s important and disturbing for just that reason. Putting the blame on one person and ignoring the circumstances that allowed him to seize power lets us off too easily.