Munich, Germany, 1918, The
World War has just ended. The city is shattered. Hungry, poor, and
unemployed citizens are everywhere, queuing for food. Far from the crowd, Max
Rothman (John Cusack), stands in his art gallery, formerly
huge old warehouse. Surrounding him are the paintings of his contemporaries
which he collects recently and are going to be exhibited soon. Max used to
painter, but the World War has taken his right hand and his artistic
skills for good. Unable to paint anymore, Max tries to make a living as a
gallery owner, art dealer, and artists promoter. He builds a love affair
with Liselore van Peltz (Leelee Sobieski), an aspiring painter,
to whom Max tries to express his artistic views and ideas.
The first exhibition of
Max's gallery runs successfully. Famous artists, celebrities, and public
figures come to see the exhibition. Suddenly, a thin and cold but fiery young
man introduces himself to Max Rothman. His name is Adolf Hitler, an amateur
artist who serves as a low-rank officer in a military office. Hitler (Noah
Taylor), already fluent in pencil drawing, tries to introduce his works to Max
and look forward to becoming a professional artist. Max actually disregards
Hitler's drawings and his lacking of ideas, but as an artist promoter he always
encourages Hitler to keep on drawing and painting. As a part of the
encouraging, Max also sells some of Hitler's works to a collector. The two
become friends, despite their constant dispute.
While Max is trying to
promote and support Hitler's career in art, Captain Mayr (Ulrich Thomsen),
Hitler's superior, is also interested in Hitler's skills and ability in public
speaking. Mayr believes that Hitler can draw public attention with his strong,
patriotic, and fiery impromptu speeches. Mayr offers Hitler a position as an
orator in a party that later would be known as NAZI. Then, Hitler, who is fed
up by the propaganda of the party, starts the party's campaign in public places
and spaces, spreading the propaganda that blames the Jewish people for
Germany's suffrage after the World War, the takeover of their fortune, and the
contamination of the pure Aryan blood. Hitler, caught between his ideals of
being an artist or a politician, is unable to produce any paintings. Max,
disliking the fact that Hitler is involved in politics, painfully has to say
that Hitler has run out of his artistic ideas. Hitler defends himself by saying
that the words he speaks in the front of people are part of his art.
The two become separated,
Max manages his art gallery and finds himself as an
experimental artist, producing a revolutionary concept
work which corporates performance art and a giant meat-grinder, while Hitler is
climbing his political career. Unknown to Max, Hitler produces numerous
futuristic drawings of a fantastic military force, complete with its logo,
its buildings, its vehicles, its uniforms, its weapons, and its concept. Max,
who comes by to visit Hitler, is astonished seeing that Hitler can finally
create quality works. Max offers Hitler a solo drawing exhibition in his
gallery. Hitler is delighted and prepares his drawings for the exhibition. The
irony begins to set in: Hitler, who, in his speeches, always confronts the
Jews, befriends Max, a Jewish artist promoter.
Only a few days before the
exhibition, Hitler gets a chance to deliver his speech in the front of Germany
youngsters. Hitler delivers his speech in a building beside a synagogue where Max is praying.
The speech that Hitler delivers is heard clearly by Max. By the night, Hitler's
speech ends and Max leaves the synagogue. Max walks the street alone, heading
to a cafe where Hitler is waiting. He drops by in the
front of a building to see some posters of Hitler's solo exhibition.
Unexpectedly, he is lynched to death by two young mariners who has just
listened to and been spirited by Hitler's speech (the mariners could
identify that Max is a Jew from the rabbinical cap he wears that night).
Hitler, hopelessly, still waits for Max at the cafe. The solo exhibition never happens.
Max is an engaging film that is
built around the myths and rumors surrounding der Fuhrer. Most of the plot
is fictional, although some events depicted are true. Max Rothman is
also a fictional character. The film is largely set as a "what-if"
story: what if Hitler became a painter instead of a military
What was Hitler doing after the first World War?
John Cusack brilliantly
portrays Max Rothman, who is calm, cool, and encouraging but deeply tortured by
his disability. Noah Taylor succeeds in bringing Adolf Hitler's theatrical,
temperamental, and expressive character, although at times he is veering at overdoing it. The title MAX, which is taken from Max Rothman's
first name is probably chosen because the film concerns the life of Max
Rothman, but it is inevitable that the audience would concern more about the
Adolf Hitler character than Max's. It seems that the film stands between the option of developing Max Rothman's
character or continuing Adolf Hitler's story. However, the film offers a
relatively new way of creating "historical" story based on
imaginative fictional events which utilize important historical characters placed
among other fictional characters.