Growing up in early 20th century Germany, Elser is by all accounts an ordinary German. He was the son of a farmer who grew up to become a craftsman and a musician. Fun-loving and flirtatious, Georg’s favorite pastimes are playing his accordion in the local tavern and chasing after pretty young women. Although he’s friends with a group of local Leftists, he doesn’t have a political bone in his body. That is, until the Nazis come to power. After watching his village be swept up by Nazi propaganda and seeing his friends imprisoned for their political beliefs, Georg eventually comes to a simple conclusion: Hitler must be stopped, and he might as well be the one to do it.
The strength of this film is two-fold. Firstly, Georg Elser’s story is an incredibly powerful one. A completely ordinary person who decided to stand up for what was right, his is a name that should be known the world over, and hopefully this film helps to accomplish that. Although I don’t want to start on a rant, I believe that a film with this simple message is needed now more than ever. We must be reminded that even the most unlikely person can do the extraordinary.
Besides the power of the story, the film is also very well-made. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the film uses a parallel narrative structure, flashing between Georg’s original life and eventual radicalization and his time being interrogated by the Nazis after his plot failed. This structure keeps the film moving along at an even, but not rushed, pace. In addition, Georg Elser is played very well by Christian Friedel, who expertly conveys the full range of this man’s transformation, from summer skinny-dipping to painstaking bomb construction to defiance under excruciating torture. My only major complaint about the film is that it missed one good opportunity, which is the time that Elser spent imprisoned in a concentration camp following his arrest, though I suppose that could have turned it into a very different kind of film.
In many ways this film reminds me of last year’s Denial, a small film which focused on the topics of hate speech and Holocaust denial. Just like that film, this one is leant much greater power by the environment it is being born into. Both of these films are, in their own ways, both warnings and reminders to us. Reminders of how we must stand up for what we believe in, and warnings of the terrible consequences which will result if we don’t.