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This movie sets several things straight. The Wannsee conference is not
place and time where Nazi Germany decided to commit the Holocaust. The
Holocaust had been going on for quite some time by January 1942, the time
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 proceed 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. Of all those present, Kritzinger is spiritually the closest to the audience, and naturally invites the question of what we would do in his place. Could you, unarmed and alone, look right into the eyes of the Blond Beast, a man whose hands are dripping with the blood of thousands of dissenters from the Reich, and tell him, `No, I defy you,' knowing that while you are risking your own torture and death, you will probably not even save a single Jew? I wish I could just write that I don't know, but the honest thing to write is that I doubt I could do that.
Kritzinger's case is a brutal warning of the malevolent power of groupthink. Even as the killers sit at the table and exchange smiles, one senses a spiteful, hungry vigilance for the first sign of sympathy for the people they are planning to slaughter, waiting to pounce on the dissenter and rip him apart with scorn and threats.
When it comes to flaw-picking time, I can only say that the ending should have shown some of the consequences of the meeting. There should have been at least some reference to the millions of people who were killed by these men. Instead, we are treated only to the fate of the men themselves, although that is disturbing in itself when we see how many of them escaped justice at Nuremberg.
People look at the pictures from Dachau and Buchenwald, the piles of starved corpses and the lamps made of human skin, and they say, `How could they?' Watch the movie. This is how they did it: over drinks around a table.
Rating: ***½ out of ****.
Recommendation: Everyone mature enough to understand should see this movie.
Our perception of the Holocaust is shaped by the harrowing images of the
chambers and crematoria of Auswitz; watch Conspiracy and be jarred out of
the complacency that comes from familiarity and be a fly-on-the-wall at
genesis of genocide.
The film documents a meeting held during WW2, when SS second-in-command, Reinhard Heydrich, assembles a group of Nazi bureaucrats and functionaries to 'discuss the final solution of the Jewish question'. In the sublime surroundings of a German country house, the assembled mingle for drinks, enjoy a first class buffet lunch and debate whether execution or sterilisation is the most efficient option of eliminating an entire race of people.
Subject matter aside, Conspiracy is all the more devastating, and precious, from its excellent script and incredible ensemble performances. There is no attempt or need to manipulate the viewer - the enormity of the truth is compelling, and appalling enough. The are no cartoon Nazis here, the depiction of Heydrich is fascinating and complex: the man is urbane, witty, impeccably mannered and utterly devoid of morality.
Credit must be given to Kenneth Branagh who propels the entire piece with one of the best portrayals on screen in memory. He is utterly convincing in the role of a man who epitomises the classic definition of evil: not just the doing of wrong, but the perversion of the human spirit so that it no longer has any perception of the good.
Where Heydrich is conviction, as the narrative develops, almost exclusively as table-talk, others are less sure. The range of attendees symbolises the various strains of Nazi culture, which developed over the course of the third reich. For the idealistic of these - the philosopher/technocrat Kritzinger; the legalistic Wilhelm Stuckart and the young soldier Major Lange, there is the dawning realisation of the human catastrophe in which they are complicit.
Technical objections are raised - Stuckhart expounds a ludicrous web of of objections on how the plan breaks the vile race laws he himself architected, and will be an 'administrative nightmare', but they soon realise this is a done deal - most of the mechanisms are already in place. The politically sharp Heydrich only needs to extract expressions of support in order to bind all the orders of Nazi society into equal guilt. During breaks in the proceedings he discreetly buttonholes the wobblers and silences their doubts: by naked threats, or in the case of Lange by invoking the fantasy that what they do is all part of a plan for a better tomorrow. Succumbing to Heydrich's magnetism and realising the dream is pretty much all that is left, Lange allows himself to be persuaded.
The eloquent script captures the delusional, the grotesque and the desparate qualities of the German position at that moment in the war: the calculation that defeat is inevitable, but unthinkable - despite the repeated whimsy of Heydrich that he will return here for a quiet country life once the war is over. He knows that he, and all others present, is headed only into the dark. And it's a one-way journey.
As a 4th generation American of German heritage, I have a deep interest
in attempting to understand how a presumably cultured, educated,
Christian society could become the Nazi nightmare of WWII.
This film, as so eloquently stated by previous posters, is quite simply a cautionary tale for all of humanity. I have seen the film several times on HBO, and whenever it comes on, I feel compelled to drop what I'm doing and watch, again transfixed -- at the ability of our human brains to rationalize and deny even in the face of undebatable truths.
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, right now in 2005 -- should look at this film as a warning. No -- we are not fascist Nazis -- not yet. But the groundwork is there. 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 will buy this DVD and share it with my family and friends.
As long as people believe in absurdities then they will continue to commit atrocities.
-- Bertrand Russell
The other reviewer her could not be more wrong, and shows a lack of
historical knowledge. Heydrich WAS rushing to get through the meeting
-- that was why it only lasted 90 minutes! The meeting was not held to
plot the Holocost, but rather was a staged production organized by the
SS (who already had started planning the final solution and embarked on
mass murder at smaller scales 7 months earlier)to obtain administrative
and cooperative buy-in from the other facets of the German government,
and their recognition of the SS's total authority over carrying it out.
And Heydrich was alternatively charming and then abrupt and short: he
was head of the Gestapo, after all. Although Branagh is much smaller
and better looking than Heydrich was, he does what an actor does --
capture the essence of a presence, the gist of the personality.
Likewise, Tucci embodies the "banality of evil" -- a schedule obsessed
numbers & detail man, an accountant concerned only with pleasing his
superiors and making mass murder efficient, while dissociating himself
from the meaning and consequences of his actions.
Although not as well-acted, the German language Wansee Conference is actually a bit better in imparting the agenda-driven business meeting quality of the event. Anyone who has ever been to a business planning meeting (in any business, but especially in government or regulated utility during budget planning time) cannot help but feel sick at the ordinary familiarity of it all. Replace killing people with making and marketing widgets, and you got it.
Conspiracy debuted on HBO in 2001 and centers on the infamous Wannsee
conference, where fifteen high-ranking officials of Nazi Germany
government and military devised the final solution of the Jewish
problem in Europe. The meeting took place in a beautiful house in rural
Germany, where food and wine were served, and ideas were born.
This film is the best World War II era film i have ever seen, and one of the best movies i have seen, period. The cast is mostly unknown, but out-act any all-star cast Hollywood has ever produced. Kenneth Branaugh delivers an excellent performance as Heydrich, the head of the table at the meeting. He threatens people with a smile on his face, and barely bats an eye while speaking of killing thousands of people. Stanley Tucci is also great as the party-planner Eichmann, who set up the entire meeting, from the venue to the food to the topics. The way he counts the number of Jews that can be exterminated in a a given period of time is downright creepy. The cast also includes great turns by Colin Firth, a lawyer and professor who thinks the systematic slaughter of the Jews is bad for Germany's future, and Ian McNiece, who plays a hateful and witty official.
The dialogue is smart, funny, and chilling, and contains some jabs at all sides of the biggest war in Earth's history. This is a great movie to show in a history class, before watching a bunch of war movies, or if you just have an interest in the war. It teaches a lot more about the time than Saving Private Ryan (great movie too, but really one-sided), and features the best acting this side of the Godfather.---9/10
"Conspiracy" is, from beginning to end, a superb, flawless work or artistic
and historical brilliance. Had it been made for theatrical release, it would
have been a legitimate contender as best film of 2001.
Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth all give what could well be career best performances (especially impressive from Branagh, who has given us some of the cinema's all time greatest interpretations of Shakespeare to make up for drek like "Wild Wild West"), as does the rest of the cast.
"Conspiracy" is a must see for anyone who cares about World War II, the holocaust, or great acting. It deserves to be in the IMDB's top 250.
This is exactly what television should be like: intelligent, thought-provoking, brilliantly written and acted. The Wannsee Conference, held on January, 20, 1942, was convened by Reinhard Heydrich (played by Kenneth Branagh), Himmler's second in command of the SS, near Berlin: it gathered 15 top Nazi bureaucrats to coordinate the Final Solution in which the Nazis would attempt to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe. Heydrich and his deputy Eichmann (Stanley Tucci) kept minutes, so that this teleplay is based largely on historical fact. The genius of the actors, the director and writer Loring Mandel is to make us understand how ordinary top bureaucrats could be pushed into accepting the ultimate horror - and to make this into an entertaining, and sometimes even very funny movie. The writing is so crisp you want to remember every line - can't *wait* for the DVD.
In January 1942, General Heydrich chaired a meeting of Hitler's top men from
various Nazi bodies including the Party, the SS etc. The reason was to
`discuss the inevitable and try to bring it about in the most practical way
under one command'. The `inevitable' being the spiralling problem of the
huge numbers of Jews and how best to deal with them.
This is a chilling dramatisation of the meeting that sealed the fate of millions of Jews. The story is quite simple and could be easily put on the stage - it is merely a board meeting with the focus being on the characters of those involved. The film plays as a normal board meeting - no one in the room is portrayed as monsters - in fact Heydrich is almost comic. One of the most chilling elements is that no-one in the room believes the Jews were normal people, some are horrified by the thought of killing them all on production lines but even then their alternatives never approach humane options.
This very wordy production would never have succeeded without strong actors and here it is blessed by not only famous faces but unknowns giving great performances. It is difficult at first to accept English actors playing Nazis but you soon get past it. Tucci and Branagh are both excellent and Colin Firth is the best I've seen him as Dr Stuckart from the Interior Ministry. I could literally name the whole cast as the members of the meeting are all well played.
This is not presented as a terrible moment and the men are not portrayed as Indiana Jones style evil Nazis. The facts are allowed to speak for themselves and it's all the more chilling for it. Overall this is an excellent film that benefits from great acting, a great script and great direction.
This movie could have been entitled, "how to chair a board meeting" or
not to chair a board meeting" - given that the outcome of the meeting was
the "final solution".
Gen. Heidrich with consumate skill and care manipulated the gathered Nazi hierarchy to the pre-arranged and pre-destined solution to the Jewish question.
There are a number of moments of exceptional power in the movie - one is where Kritzinger realises the truth, another is where Heidrich makes it clear to Shtukhard that he will be victimised if he does not cooperate. But the best moment must be when even those in favour realise that they are not there to decide the matter but to be to lend their complicity to the pre-made decision.
The psychology of the writing is insprired. I have never been so totally captivated by the mix of acting, subject matter and drama. This is a must see.
This is a very well-done and memorable film that chills you to the bone as you listen a group of men sometimes happily discuss genocide! There are excellent performances from a cast with few well-known, familiar names, but Stanley Tucci as Eichmann and Kenneth Branagh as Heydrich particularly shine. Given the history of the two men they portray (neither one terribly pleasant but, fittingly, neither were their ends), the performances are all the more disturbing by their understated nature. An excellent film. Most highly recommended.
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