Documentary about Fred Leuchter, an engineer who became an expert on execution devices and was later hired by revisionist historian Ernst Zundel to "prove" that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. Leuchter published a controversial report confirming Zundel's position, which ultimately ruined his own career. Most of the footage is of Leuchter, puttering around execution facilities or chipping away at the walls of Auschwitz, but Morris also interviews various historians, associates, and neighbors. Written by
According to A Brief History of Errol Morris (2000), Morris made a rough cut that he showed to colleagues and friends that only had Leuchter interviewed and it was Morris' intention that the audience would understand he was saying things either as lies or flat-out wrong. He was advised to go to Auschwitz and dig deeper so that there would be no doubt for the audience that Leuchter was wrong. See more »
Fred A. Leuchter Jr.:
The human body is not easy to destroy and it's not east to take a life humanely and painlessly without doing a great deal of damage to the individual's body.
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In Errol Morris's film, "Mr. Death", Fred Leuchter Jr. comes across as a passionless, mechanical robot, fitting the engineering profession that he devoted his life to. Leuchter, the innovator of many death penalty devices and subsequently the only scientist willing to testify favorably in a celebrated Canadian trial that questioned the existence of the Holocaust, is either a hero to some or a villain to many. Morris, except for a Frankenstein-inspired opening and closing set in the film, prefers to let Leuchter be Leuchter rather than adding more contempt to a decidedly pitiful figure. The one time Morris does appear to interfere is when he asked Leuchter point blank if he could have been mistaken in any of his analysis. There are also camera tricks which render what Leuchter did as malicious, such as the split screen between what was Auschwitz and now, the slow-motion as Leuchter is chipping away at sites many Jews consider holy ground, and the phasing in and out of color and black and white film as we see Leuchter demonstrate his electric chair. The motivation behind what he did lies at the heart of "Mr. Death". He aspired to perfect the most humane killing machine because he said he believed in capital punishment, not capital torture. He cared that prison guards who knew the death-row inmates well would not have to suffer cleaning up the morbid residuals of those electrocuted. Yet he tried to carry this same mind-set in understanding the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In his mechanical mind, he asked how he could have done a better job of extermination. "Mr. Death" is an unpleasant but needed lesson about the mosaic people who live and work with each of us everyday - a people who seem anti-social yet amoral and who seem to be guided by that inner light that we can barely know or understand.
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