Hitler is coming to a theater near you. A film about the Fuehrer’s younger years as a struggling artist opens Dec. 27 on both coasts, and nationwide in February. New York audiences can catch a preview of "Max," which stars John Cusack as the one-armed Jewish art dealer Max Rothman, at the JCC in Manhattan on Dec. 19.
The JCC’s programming choice has drawn criticism from Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who saw a screening of the Lions Gate release in October and found it "jarringly wretched."
"The fact that any Jewish institution could present this film is a sad commentary on the state of the Jewish people and the Jewish community today," Hikind told The Jewish Week. In the name of art and intellectual curiosity, "it’s anything goes," Hikind said.
But Judd Erlich, the JCC’s film director, stood by the Upper West Side center’s decision. Erlich said the film, which he had not yet seen, is "of interest to the Jewish community, given the subject matter." He expects a sellout crowd "because people want to see it."
The film is set in Munich in 1918 and depicts the relationship between the fictional Rothman and the all-too-real Hitler (played by Noah Taylor). Both men have been scarred by World War I, but Rothman returns to a home, family and prosperous business, while Hitler is portrayed as an alienated outcast, frustrated painter and budding anti-Semite.
"Max" arrives among a spate of projects that deal with Hitler’s younger days. This summer, CBS announced plans to air a forthcoming Canadian-produced miniseries about Hitler’s life based on the 1998 biography "Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris," by British historian Ian Kershaw. Williams College in Massachusetts recently held an exhibition of Hitler’s artworks and related historical materials titled "Prelude to a Nightmare: Art, Politics, and Hitler’s Early Years in Vienna, 1906-1913." The exhibition was inspired by Brigitte Hamann’s 1999 book "Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship."
Critics have warned that sympathetic portrayals of Hitler could lionize the genocidal mastermind for younger audiences. Some, like Hikind, say such portrayals show insensitivity toward Holocaust survivors.
The film’s proponents say understanding the forces that shaped Hitler’s megalomania, even in a fictionalized account, serves to dispel mythologies surrounding the dictator.
"The criticism I’ve heard is that by merely showing Hitler, you are humanizing him, making him into a real person," Erlich said. "The fact is he was a real person."