CAPSULE: THE DECENT ONE--the title could not be more ironic--tells the story of the life and times of Heinrich Himmler and his two faces. He was the chief architect of the Holocaust and responsible for the deaths of millions of people in the concentration camps. At the same time he was a loving family man who cherished his wife and children. We hear read newly discovered diaries and correspondence with his family combined with historical and news camera footage recounting Himmler's history, which closely follows the history of the Nazi Party. There is not a lot new about the Nazis here, and what is new is just about Himmler's relation with his family while he was responsible for some of the worst days of the 20th century. Some viewers who have not seen film of the Holocaust will likely find some of the visuals disturbing. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
The film reminded me of an incident in my youth. I remember one Sunday morning when I was growing up. Our neighbor across the street was on his sidewalk dressed up for church. While his family was getting ready he casually took a kettle of boiling water and poured it down an anthill. He was taking a moment before church to cause pain and death to what was possibly hundreds of ants. I would have thought it would be an unchristian act. But I am sure my neighbor felt he was being a good Christian without placing value on the lives of ants. God does not care about ants.
It is the revelation of Vanessa Lapa's new documentary THE DECENT ONE that Heinrich Himmler thought of himself as a sensitive, decent man and as a good German doing his duty to the Fatherland. At least that was the way he presented himself in his personal correspondence and his diaries. These writings had been thought lost since the end of the war, but have now been rediscovered.
Reichsführer-SS Himmler was a major force in the Nazi Party and was one of the chief architects of the Holocaust that killed eleven million people. He was one of the people most responsible for the murder of millions of Jews, gays, gypsies, and communists following his personal belief that these people were bringing down the German state and Germany had an obligation to exterminate them. Himmler we see was not a mad man, as it is often convenient to label the leaders of the Nazi Party. He was just a very ordinary man who through his writings just expressed that the captive people's lives were worth no more than those of my neighbor's ants. They needed to be killed so that a new Germany could rise modeled on a mythical historic Germany. Himmler idolized previous generations and wanted to return to the values of historic times.
The newly rediscovered writings of Himmler appear to show that he was a family man, though with just a little infidelity on the side. But he loved his wife and his children. And he enjoyed his terrible work, as much as he grouses about it in his letters home. That said there is not a lot in this film that is not familiar history for any who wanted it. We hear actors reading the writings and behind the subtitles we see relevant news and documentary footage of the time. One touch taken from the last days of silent film: there are sound effects added to the footage, much after the fact, to give it a little bit of the impression of sound film.
There is a problem with the words spoken in rapid-fire German and then subtitled so that the subtitles flash by very quickly. Some viewers will feel that if they look at the movie footage they will miss the subtitles and vice versa. Also, in the version I say the subtitles were in white with black border over black and white film. This frequently makes the subtitles hard to read. The words are read by actors, but they are unfamiliar voices, and at times the viewer needs to recognize the voices to keep track of who is speaking.
Heinrich Himmler's rather prosaic personal life is about all that is really new here. Still it is a "nice" (if that is the word) summary of Himmler's life and his "achievements" (if that is the word). I rate THE DECENT ONE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3508830/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_decent_one/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper