An Uncomfortable Meeting

Movie: Conspiracy (2001).

How do you explain to a person that the movie you just watched was uncomfortable, yet you’re still recommending it? I just finished watching Conspiracy, and I have a heavy, slightly sick feeling in my gut, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this movie again. In fact it’s so packed with information you’d be hard pressed to absorb it all in one viewing.

Conspiracy, based off a German film, dramatizes the Wannsee Conference, held in 1942. At a stately home in Wannsee several officials of the Nazi government and the SS meet to discuss the “final solution to the Jewish question.” At only 96 minutes, the movie consists mainly of the participants arguing over points such as who can be considered Jewish, and minor disagreements between the government departments.

As a history student I had heard about when and where the discussion took place, but I still did not know the details, and my first stop after the credits rolled was of course Wikipedia. I glanced at the “Proceedings” heading in the entry and got a general overview of what the film omits and changes, and while all historical films do, and must do this, with the way the film is made I think it’s useful to point that out to the casual viewer. If you don’t want to do the research yourself, you may note that the film includes a line that the record of the proceedings should be edited, to remove certain words, and that is indeed historically true. So nothing you hear can be guaranteed to be accurate, though details over exact phrasing, I would argue, is not what’s important in this sort of film.

Kenneth Branagh plays Reinhard Heydrich, who presides over the meeting. He manages to be both the most creepy and most charming person in the room, with just a hint of humanity thrown in, presumably to unsettle the viewer even further. The other actors all play their parts really well, and I suppose that’s the creepiest thing about the movie: watching all these nice actors playing people who are discussing such an indescribable act.

The film focuses solely on the meeting, with a few pauses for us to catch our breath while the Nazis get some fresh air and gossip in smaller groups. The photography and editing leaves you very much gasping for air during these breaks, and I’m pretty sure the meeting room kept shrinking, but that was perhaps only the sense of dread as you wait for inevitable question to be discussed openly.

All praise aside for a moment, I did feel the movie lacked a bit of, well, movie-ness. It’s not so much a movie as a dramatized lecture. I’m pretty sure a History Channel version would have been much more enlightening and memorable. With so much information, names, places, government departments and confusion about what it’s all really for, you’re left with the sense that the movie needs some cuts to interviews with historians.

The movie leaves you feeling like you’ve just woken from a uneasy dream you can’t remember. While that in itself is something to be admired – I enjoy any film that leaves an impact – I can’t help but feel slightly cheated, because I wanted it to be a film I remembered in its entirety.

At the very end, Eichmann (Stanely Tucci) puts on some music, and you realize the film’s soundtrack has been silent throughout the meeting, sort of like when the movie ends, and you realize that’s the whole thing.

Nevertheless, I urge you to check it out, because if nothing else, you’ll always remember what a nice room these men all sat in while they discussed the fates of so many.

Dice roll: 4

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