Director: Frank Pierson
Stars: Kenneth Branagh/Stanly Tucci
Year Released: 2001
Spoiler Warnings for the Übermensch
If you’re looking for a film that shows how the worst acts in history are committed look no further. In 1942 the Wannsee Conference was held. during it, top Nazi bureaucrats led by Reich protector Reinhardt Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh) and SS senior leader Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci), gathered in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee and decided the fate of six million lives in an 85-minute meeting.
“Conspiracy’s” plot is just that, a dramatic re-creation of a group of Nazi’s having a meeting and being introduced to the high commands final solution to the so-called Jewish problem. While the plot is extremely simple, this is still a fascinating movie. Everyone should understand that while this meeting was the official start of the Holocaust, the Holocaust as we know it (that is to say the organized mass killing of undesirables by the Nazi State) had been going on for quite some time before any meeting at Wannsee.
“Conspiracy” acknowledges this when Dr. Rudolf Lange (Barnaby Kay) commander of the SD in Latvia and one of the few active duty military men present at the conference, mentions that he “evacuated” 30,000 Jews in Riga by shooting them. This is all correct, as unorganized killings of anyone the Nazis deemed inferior had been going on since the invasion of Poland and organized killings were started soon after that. In fact, the early concentration camps were already up and running before any conference of any kind. The true purpose of Wannsee was to tell all the parts of the disparate Nazi bureaucracy, oh BTW we’re committing Genocide now, either get on board or get buried.
To me, the Wannsee conference was not just the confirmation of the Holocaust but also the reveal of the true face of Nazi power. Understand that while the Nazi ideology was built on antisemitism and white supremacy, that was hardly the only thing that attracted its millions of followers. Nazism was to create a Socialist democratic dictatorship that would dissolve the corruption of the old government and serve as a beacon of hope and order for all Europe. It was at Wannsee that these officials learned that it was not the state that had absolute power, only the Fuhrer, and his associates. This is best shown when Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (David Threlfall) and Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart (Colin Firth) raise objections. Kritzinger wonders why the extermination of Jews is taking place despite Hitler personally denying that it wouldn’t. Stuckart, on the other hand, is more practical with his objections. He wonders how the laws separating Jew from Germans (which he created) will be maintained and how they will legally and righteously create a new Germany if they resort to Mass extermination.
Heydrich assures them both in no uncertain terms that, Hitler will continue to deny any mass extermination plots despite being aware of them from the beginning. Also, any legal or moral issues preventing the extermination of the Jews should just be ignored. It is with this simple announcement that both men learn that they are no longer living in a representative government of any kind and likely never have been. Heydrich also takes the extra step to privately let them know if they do not enthusiastically cooperate they will be dismissed (meaning killed) and replaced with someone who will. Despite the unspeakable evil being committed, I don’t know anyone who could defy a man whose had ordered the death of thousands, especially when defiance would mean certain death for you, your family and wouldn’t slow the upcoming slaughter in the least. Those at Wannsee learned that their Nazi empire was just that, a state totally controlled by Emperor Adolph the first and his knights the SS, while they were merely peasants with no voice and no choice.
“Conspiracy” would likely be as dull and formal as the real Wannsee conference if not for the superb performances of the entire cast. Especially chilling was Kenneth Branagh, who shows his Shakespearean skills as he infuses one of the worst Nazis in history with such a cold and terrifying menace, that it’s no surprise at all that he could terrify an entire room of bureaucrats into submission without even raising his voice. Amusingly Heydrich is one of the few in attendance that doesn’t operate under any illusions. While some of the others still hold to the fantasy of mealy deporting Jews from German lands, Heydrich knows that such ideas are absurd. He also considers it ridiculous that the assembled Nazis would be willing to oppress the Jews so much, but not want to take the final step and wipe them out.
Also worth mentioning is the sublimely sleazy Dr. Gerhard Klopfer (Ian McNeice) who has the dubious honor of being the most unpleasant Nazi in the room. Every word out of his mouth shows him to be a tactless assh&%$ who’s anti-Semitism is so extreme it even bothers his co-workers. Apparently, the real Klopfer was nothing like this but since Ian McNeice is so good a portraying scum bags, it’s no wonder they made the change. David Threlfall is excellent as Wilhelm Kritzinger, one of the few at the conference who seems to object to the proposed mass extermination plan but ultimately crumbles due to fear and a total lack of support from anyone else. The honor of the best speech has to go to Colin Firth whose speech on eliminating Jews according to the letter of the law is one of the best displays of the warped Nazi mindset in any film ever made. While “Conspiracy” is a grim film it is also a superbly acted recreation of one of the most important meetings ever held. For those wondering how a government could condemn millions to death, “Conspiracy” will show that it was done. That is to say, in a simple 85-minute business meeting, the banality of evil indeed.
Did I like the movie: Yes
Would I watch it again: Yes but only with other people so we could discuss it
Would I buy it: Yes
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