Look Who’s Back (2016)
Directed by: David Wnendt
Premise: Based on the book by Timur Vermes. Adolf Hitler miraculously reappears in 2014 Germany. Everyone assumes that he is a method actor playing the role of Hitler and his rants make him an internet sensation which paves the way for a new rise to power.
What Works: We are living in a golden age of satire. Between television programs like The Daily Show and South Park and movies like Sausage Party and Idiocracy and the many great examples of short form satire found online from the likes of Funny or Die and Screen Junkies, it’s a buyer’s market for those who enjoy the sardonic and the absurd. And yet, even in such a crowded marketplace, Look Who’s Back is an exceptional example of what satire can be and what it can do. Look Who’s Back is a German motion picture and that is an important factor in understanding the movie. Following the horrors of World War II, the people and government of Germany responded to Hitler’s crimes against humanity by outlawing the symbols of Nazism, criminalizing Holocaust denial, and, until quite recently, banning Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. For German filmmakers to create a comedy with Hitler as the subject is quite provocative. And for international audiences, particularly American viewers, Look Who’s Back is an incisive movie that fits perfectly into this historical moment. The film comes at a time when Hitler has been made into a caricature and he is used as a lazy ad hominem attack on political opponents. This, along with a reinvigorated white supremacist subculture throughout the western world, gives the movie a contemporary urgency. Since the end of World War II, philosophers and scholars have wondered if people of today would recognize fascism if they saw it. Look Who’s Back literalizes that question as Hitler walks the streets of Germany and interacts with people. Allegedly, several of these sequences were unscripted and the results are simultaneously comical and frightening. Look Who’s Back also has a smart regard for the role of the news media in promoting a hateful agenda. Part of the film’s critique is aimed at news media which will give a platform to ugly ideas if they result in profits. That’s what happens here as Hitler becomes a fixture of talk show television. However, the filmmakers also take a shot at other comedy, exposing how much of what passes for satire is in fact racist humor taking shelter under the guise of being ironic or edgy. And that is the deeper and more frightening point of this film; what Hitler represents has never really gone away and contemporary culture might be unequipped to deal with him.
What Doesn’t: Given the premise of the movie, Look Who’s Back may not be for everyone. For some viewers, the idea of making a comedy about Adolf Hitler is simply a nonstarter. There is a legitimate case to be made for that position. As this line of reasoning goes, the legacy of Hitler and the Nazis is inextricably tied to the Holocaust and so making a buffoon out of Hitler is to trivialize genocide. The first third of Look Who’s Back is susceptible to that criticism. The humor of the first part of Look Who’s Back involves Hitler adjusting to life in the twenty-first century. These jokes are hit and miss and play like an episode of Da Ali G Show. But the filmmakers’ approach evolves over the course of the film. In the last third of the picture there is a particular moment in which the film acknowledges the horrific legacy of the Third Reich and adjusts the tone of the film to accommodate for it. The filmmakers deftly navigate through a very tricky part of their movie and Look Who’s Back reveals itself to be smarter and more subversive than it initially appears to be. But as a result it is also jettisons the goofy humor of the first portion and so viewers who were looking for a lighthearted comedy may be put off by the serious turn.
DVD extras: Look Who’s Back has not been issued on DVD in North America but it has been made available on Netflix’s streaming service. The German Blu-ray includes interviews, deleted scenes, featurettes, and trailers.
Bottom Line: Look Who’s Back is a comedy that is worthy of comparison to Four Lions and Dr. Strangelove. The movie is funny but also disturbing and in that respect Look Who’s Back is much more satirical in the true sense of the word than many of the films and television shows that claim the title.
Episode: #631 (January 22, 2017)