Review of the 2017 German Film The Captain

The Captain is a dark, brutal film which looks at WWII's final days from the perspective of German soldiers behind the frontlines.

The Captain is a dark, brutal film which looks at World War II’s final days from the perspective of German soldiers behind the frontlines.

Der Hauptmann, released in March 2018, takes place behind the German frontlines in April 1945, weeks before the end of the war. Max Hubacher, who plays the movie's anti-hero Willi Herold, does a remarkable job. He is very convincing as a private who has deserted from his unit and is merely trying to survive. The Captain is directed by Robert Schwentke, who directed two of the science fiction action films, Insurgent and Allegiant from the Divergent trilogy.

This is a very dark brutal film which clearly depicts the chaos which existed towards the end of the war. The opening scene shows Willi running from a group of German soldiers, intent on killing him. He manages to escape and then you realize the hopelessness of his situation. Shot in black and white, at times reminiscent of Schindler’s List, the filming is beautiful and at the same time very disturbing. We see a landscape which is dark, grey, and dirty white; the landscape seems to go on forever. The filming poignantly shows the hopelessness of the situation. There is no sign of life as the film pans out across this dark dreadful landscape. The movie successfully pulls you into this dark landscape and you feel the desperation of the situation.

Willi turns out to be a very resourceful young man. He comes across an abandoned car with a former Luftwaffe Officer’s uniform and some food in the back seat. Initially thinking only of surviving, Willi puts the uniform on to stay warm and eats the food; however, the uniform transforms Willi into a man who has discovered authority. Just moments before he was running for his life; now, he finds himself empowered as result of the uniform. This is a very interesting aspect of the movie' the authority the uniform commands.

The movie conveys the belief everyone is looking for a leader, someone to tell them what to do. In this case Willi truly becomes the uniform and clearly believes he is the Captain. He is a on a special assignment ordered directly from no other than Hitler himself. He soon gathers around him a group of stragglers/deserters who follow his orders without asking questions. Among these are two characters, Freytag played by Milan Peschel and Kipinski played by Frederick Lau. The two could not be more opposite in their beliefs. Freytag comes across as a gentle kind man who questions the brutality he is confronted with. Kipinski is a violent sadist, who is the focus of the violence which begins to unfold as the movie moves forward.

Task Force Herold is on a mission to “find clarity on the situation behind the front.” In doing so they will not tolerate looters or deserters. The men, who gather around Willi, do not question his orders. It is as if the best way not to be accused of being a deserter is to show your blind commitment to the Captain and carry out his murderous intentions. Our group comes across a prison camp which is populated with German deserters. It is here the sadistic Kipinski rises to the occasion. He immediately begins to beat, rob, and kill the prisoners.

The camp’s Commander, Hansen, played by Waldemar Kobus, questions Willi’s authority and puts in a phone call to Dr. Thiel of the Justice Department. Hanson wants to court martial the prisoners before executing them. In this scene which verges on the absurd, and there are several absurd moments in the movie, Willi has a phone conversation with Dr. Thiel and convinces him he is acting on orders from Hitler. With the okay given by Dr. Thiel, the bloodbath begins and Kipinski leads the way in executing hundreds of prisoners. At one point Willi forces Freytag, who has stayed away from killing anyone, to execute a prisoner. Freytag’s loss of innocence is one of the darker moments in the movie.

Max Hubacher, is very convincing as the Captain, his performance is the highlight of this extremely dark movie. At various times during the movie, Hubacher’s expression leads one to believe Willi is very pleased with himself. The picture from the movie, of him staring at the car’s mirror is a perfect illustration of this. It is as if he realizes the absurdity of his intentions and is laughing at all those around him for believing in him. There are times during the movie in which Willi is questioned concerning who he is. On several occasions, he is asked to show his papers and each time is able to wiggle out of the situation.

The prison camp is bombed and destroyed by Allied fighter planes. When the bombing is over, the camp lies in ruins, but Willi walks out of the ashes. The picture from the movie included in this review, illustrates this dramatic scene and at this point you wonder if anyone or anything can stop Willi. This would have been a good place to conclude the movie. The subsequent scenes of Task Force Herold going into town and the orgy they indulge in goes on for too long.

One of the best scenes in the movie occurs during the end. Kipinski steals the woman Willi was attracted to which infuriates him. Willi, all powerful, kills the sadistic Kipinski which was very pleasing for this viewer. In the end the hotel Willi is staying in is raided by German Military Police. Finally he has to show his papers, which show he is nothing more than a private.

The Captain is based on a true set of events which happened in Germany towards the end of the war. The real Willi Herold was executed for his crimes on November 14, 1946. The Captain is not a pleasant movie to watch and is very disturbing. The filming is the highlight of the movie; the landscapes are captivating, beautiful, and disturbing all at the same time. It does clearly show the power of a uniform and the need for authority. Most importantly The Captain clearly illustrates the blind loyalty and fanaticism of German soldiers as the war is coming to an end and the situation is hopeless.


Dan Olmsted

Dan Olmsted served as a Research Historian in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. He started at the Museum in 2014 and, unt...
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