Führer Ex

I recently saw the 2002 German film, Führer Ex. I found it an odd and somewhat disappointing film. It is ostensibly about the neo-Nazi movement that flourished right after the re-unification of Germany. However, because most of the film takes places inside an East German prison, it’s really more about the brutality of prison life than about Nazism. (Judging from this film, the prisons in East Germany weren’t any worse than prisons anywhere else.) It is ostensibly based on a memoir by Ingo Hasselbach, though it bears no resemblance to the excerpt that I read in The New Yorker.

Tommy (Aaron Hildebrand) and Heiko (Christian Blümel) are two bored, disaffected teenagers living in East Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. They try to cross the border into the West but are caught. In prison, they gravitate towards an unrepentant Nazi, Friedhelm (Harry Baer), because he offers them protection from the other prisoners. When Heiko is put in solitary confinement, the Stasi use this to pressure Thomas into becoming an informer. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, they join an open neo-Nazi group in Berlin under Friedhelm’s leadership. One day Friedhelm tells Heiko that Tommy was a Stasi agent, so he must kill him. Heiko is unaware that Tommy became an informer to save his life. Meanwhile, Tommy has become disillusioned with the Nazis, after they kill a friend of his, a young girl. Heiko confronts Tommy, but he can’t bring himself to kill him. Tommy is subsequently killed by other Nazis. Heiko then quits the Nazis.

As I said before, most of the film takes place inside a prison. In these scenes, the prisoners are all concerned with power relationships between one another. These relations are enforced through the use of rape. When, for example, Heiko humiliates another prisoner, his cellmate demands that Heiko submit to him. The film seems to be saying that in the absence of the normal rules of society, these power relationships become an obsession for people. It may also be that these actions are a response to the boredom and dreariness of prison life.

One of the weaknesses of the film is that we’re not told much about Friedhelm, who only appears in a couple of scenes, even though he’s clearly an important character. We don’t get any sense of why people are attracted to him. Also, a large chunk of the film is devoted to a pointless subplot about Thomas’s efforts to escape from the prison. I don’t know why the fimmakers saw fit to include this, especially since we know that Heiko and Tommy are going to be released from prison anyway.

This film didn’t give me any insight into why some people are attracted to far right and racist ideologies. It seems to imply that the neo-Nazi movement in the wake of re-unification was a reaction against the East German state. (In one scene, one of the Nazis claims that they were all taught “lies” about Hitler in the Communist-run schools.) However, this doesn’t explain why there were (and are) neo-Nazi groups in western Germany as well as in the east.

All in all, this film is really more of a melodramatic adventure movie than a social analysis.

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