Film

Review: Final Account Records a Time and Mindset That Proves a Cautionary Tale for Today

There will likely be some people who question the need for a film that collects stories of the Holocaust and Nazism from the German perspective. But director Luke Holland (who lost his grandparents in the Holocaust and dedicates the film to them) is clearly a believer in the idea that monsters are not born, they are made, and over the course of more than 10 years (he died from cancer last year), he did an impressive job collecting stories of young German men and women who did everything from joining the Hitler Youth to signing up willingly and unashamedly to be members of the SS. And like many great films that act as a record of the past, Final Account illustrates the similarities between the Third Reich’s tactics and philosophies and ones we are seeing today all over the world, particularly in the last five years.

Final Account

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Holland doesn’t draw those parallels between behaviors and ideas from the 1930s and 1940s to today, but he doesn’t have to. By manipulating ideas about national pride, conformity, complicity and infiltration, the Nazi Party set itself up to be the group that got things done and cared about nothing more than bettering the lives of the German people. At least according to some who are interviewed here, the treatment of Jewish citizens and their businesses was a thing that was happening in the background—they were aware of it, but they didn’t understand the significance. Naturally, there are a few interview subjects who claim they had no idea that Jews were being killed in camps; they simply knew that they were not in their towns any longer, presumably moving away of the their own accord. It’s in moments like these in the documentary where it becomes clear that some of these subjects have been rewriting their own history for decades.

There’s a casual, unemotional way that these subjects discuss their involvement in Nazism. One woman says she joined the girls’ version of the Hitler Youth for no other reason than she liked the uniforms. And just when we begin to think that Holland’s film about memories and personal responsibility was only going to focus on Germans who had no role in one of the greatest man-made tragedies in history, the chills sink in as he interviews a couple of people who not only refuse to think Hitler was a bad guy, but still sing his praises as a leader of the German people. They don’t agree with the mass killings, but aside from that, they seem to think he was good for the nation. When pressed by Holland, they admit that they have to think this way because to think anything else would make them bad people—and the silence is deafening in those moments.

Holland isn’t interested in uncovering war criminals—in all likelihood, no one interviewed for Final Account was anything more than complicit—but he does want to ask: when an entire nation is complicit, doesn’t that make everyone guilty to some extent? The underlying feeling among most of the subjects is regret and disbelief that things got so out of hand and horrific. They don’t seem to regret going to war with the Allied forces, but their feelings on the treatment of Jews seems genuine, if woefully too little too late. Much of what is on display is reckoning (there’s only one true Holocaust denier in the bunch, and he barely registers in the film), and that might be the best that anyone could hope for at this point. But as a record of a time, place and mentality, Final Account is essential viewing and a timely cautionary tale.

This film is now playing theatrically.

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