Maybe it’s time to stop using Nazis as bad guys.
Now hear me out. I’m not saying we shouldn’t make any more World War II movies. And I’m not saying we can’t have movies that portray Nazis in the villainous role they require, earned, and deserve. All I’m saying is that maybe we shouldn’t, for a while.
Nazis have essentially become the titular Alien from the Alien movies. We’ve seen it so many times, its portrayal growing more and more reductive with each installment, that we’ve reached the point where we’re no longer afraid of it. The Alien isn’t scary anymore. Once you drag the monster out of the shadows of your bedroom, shine a bright light on it, and make it dance, you forget what it feels like to be sitting alone in the dark with it watching you from a distorted mass of shapes that project nothing but malice and dread despite never fully congealing into a recognizable figure.
Today, we take for granted the amount of time it took the majority of the world to realize that. Many countries, the United States included, didn’t see Nazis as the overt monsters nearly a century of hindsight has taught us they were all along. Nazism was vogue, even in America, where the well-educated and well-moneyed would spend evenings extolling the virtues of eugenics, and suggesting appeasement was the way to deal with Hitler, because he “really didn’t seem that bad.”
Most people reacted with incredulous disbelief at the rumors of death camps, prompting people to actually break in to camps to collect evidence, because yes, “pics or it didn’t happen” absolutely extended to the Holocaust. We had to be convinced that Nazis were truly evil, and decades of casting them as cartoonish villains in popular culture has softened their evil to the point where it’s almost become abstracted. When watching Inglourious Basterds, it’s easy to forget to connect the bizarrely affable Hans Landa to this (holy hell graphic and disturbing) image of a wheelbarrow full of dead Jewish children, and fucking nobody is thinking about that real, soul-crushing shit while they’re waiting for Nazi Zombies to load.