FILM REVIEW: IRON SKY – FALLING FOR FASCISM

The best joke in the Finnish Nazis-on-the-moon movie Iron Sky is, ironically, also the one that best demonstrates the film’s weaknesses. Idealistic Nazi teacher, Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), shows her young class a sharply edited (ten minutes long) version of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and, as the Jewish barber disguised as Hynkel dances with the globe, she proclaims to her pupils that it demonstrates Chaplin’s “wish that one day the entire world should be held in the great Fuhrer’s wise and gentle hands”. It’s a cute moment, but the problem in invoking Chaplin’s classic is that it reminds the viewer that if you’re going to make a comedy about Nazis, you really better have something important to say about them.

Iron Sky fails this test. Indeed the biggest problem with this film is that it doesn’t really understand Nazis at all, and certainly fails to grasp why we should continue to abhor them.

Iron Sky starts with an American space mission to the dark side of the moon that ends in disaster when the astronauts stumble across a secret Nazi base built in the last days of the war. The Nazis capture one of the astronauts, James Washington (James Kirby), and are shocked to discover, first, that he is black and, second, that his iPhone 1 contains more computing power than their entire base. The Nazis need computers to get their vast war machine operational so Nachrichtenubermittlungs-Oberfuhrer 2 Adler (Gotz Otto) and Renate go to Earth. However, Adler’s plans go beyond stealing some phones. He wants to dispose of the current Nazi leader, Kortzfleisch (Udo Keir), establish himself as Fuhrer and lead an invasion. On Earth Adler becomes entangled in American politics, using Renate’s naïve, well-meaning Nazi rhetoric (!) to deliver an election victory for a Sarah Palin-like American president (who comes complete with a stuffed polar bear in her Oval Office).

The key moment in the film’s clumsy attempt at satire comes when Renate delivers a stirring rendition of her ideology in the Oval Office, which morphs into the President delivering the same speech to the American people:

The world is sick but we are the doctors. The world is anaemic but we are the vitamins. The world is weary but we are the strength. We are here to make the world healthy once again with hard work, with honesty, with clarity, with decency. We are the product of loving mothers and brave fathers. We are the embodiment of love and bravery. We are the gift of both god and science. We are the answer to the question. We are the promise delivered to all mankind. For that we raise our hand to one nation. We step to the beat of one drum. We march to the beat of one heart and it is this song that we will sing to this world. We are the people who carry the children on our shoulders in the same way that our fathers carried us and their fathers carried them. We are the one people united and strong. We are the one people with certainty, moral certainty. We are invincible and we have no fear because the truth makes us wise.

You can see what the film’s writers are trying to do. Right-wing Republicans are indistinguishable from Nazis! Geddit?

But, of course, this is bullshit.

For all the faults of America’s Tea Party movement – and they are far too many to enumerate here – they are not driven by a genocidal desire to pursue racial purity and a willingness to do anything, no matter how evil, to achieve their ends. They are not Nazis.

It is important to preserve the distinction between those whose politics we simply disagree with and genuine fascists. One of the goals of the current generation of fascists – groups like the English Defence League – is to make their extremism appear part of the mainstream of political debate. They are aided in this if we are careless with our identification of fascists and if we throw away the power of the words “Nazi” and “fascist” by using them casually. Worse, we make it easier for them if we do not understand what it is that marks them out as uniquely despicable.

For example, if you are going to make a film that features Nazis as your knockabout villains, you’d better make damned sure that your racial politics are carefully thought through. They’d better be impeccable.

That’s not true of Iron Sky.

Take the story arc of the film’s sole black character, James Washington. Washington is sent to the moon not because he is a qualified astronaut but because he is a model, designed to attract publicity. Washington is a caricature of a black man, he is a “jive-talking” idiot, irresistible to the Aryan princess Renate, who discovers responsibility and honour when he is turned into a blonde white man by Nazi scientists.  It’s so shockingly crude that you can’t help but wonder what the hell the people who made the film were thinking.

Fascist fetish?

And then there’s the treatment of the Nazis themselves. Think, for a moment, about the purpose they serve in this film and their presence becomes distinctly disturbing. There is, of course, the crude satire on America but there are lots of ways that you could mock the Tea Party tendency in Republican politics without invoking German fascism. So: why Nazis? And the answer is depressingly obvious as you watch the film. Iron Sky displays a fetishistic obsession with the Nazi aesthetic that is, at times, deeply uncomfortable and extends to slow motion reveals of updated uniforms, as though in a fashion shoot. For all the film’s comic intentions, it is impossible to watch Iron Sky and not be aware of the glamour that it imparts to its space-Nazi villains and that is disturbing. It also undermines any element of satire that the team behind Iron Sky might have been reaching for.

To return to the contrast between Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and this film. Chaplin understands the enemy and mocks them at their weakest points – their pomposity, their cruelty and their stupidity. Chaplin, working in 1938 – before the worst evils of Hitler’s dictatorship were known, is never gentle with his target, never knowing, never remotely seduced by them. Chaplin’s final oration in The Great Dictator might weaken the film as a comedy but it reveals a filmmaker determined to use his access to an audience to say something brave and something profound. Judged against this standard, Iron Sky isn’t just a vapid, not-funny-enough comedy, it’s a film that makes a number of serious misjudgements and stumbles disturbingly close to endorsing the ideas it sets out to satirise.



Notes:

  1. No, I have no idea why an astronaut is taking his iPhone to the moon either.
  2. I admit, taking the piss out of long German words/titles made me laugh too…
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10 Responses to FILM REVIEW: IRON SKY – FALLING FOR FASCISM

  1. Old Jim says:

    The film caught the spirit of the Nazis quite well I thought. For all that they were brutal, cruel and irredeemably evil they were attractive and they were brilliant. To think otherwise is to be willfully blind to the hideous events that took place.

    You see all those old videos. All those men, women and children waving flags in the streets so packed with the joy and pride the felt to belong to such an ideology. You look at the margin the Nazis won that fateful election by, you tell me they weren’t loved?

    This film captures some of the more insane aspects of modern American politics and where its darker edges are beginning to blur into the lighter edges of the old Nazi ideology.

    Never underestimate the casual cruelty of decent people in large groups. A sad fact of human nature that you can either laugh at or go slightly mad.

  2. Martin says:

    You rather make my point for me.

    Of course the Nazis were seductive and of course the image they created for themselves remains powerful – that’s precisely why, when they are used in fiction they must be used for a purpose – not just because they have stylish uniforms and a striking aesthetic.

    The comic book nastiness of Iron Sky’s Nazis skips over the depth of their evil and focuses only on their glamour – this is both fundamentally shallow and makes this Nazi-lite nonsense seem like a consequence-free style choice not a vile ideology that deserves to be shunned by right-thinking people. The difference between the flag-waving children of 1930s Germany and modern film-makers and viewers is that we know exactly where Naziism leads and how blood-soaked those uniforms would become – we cannot claim to be innocent of what was behind the flag.

    It is perfectly possible to make comedy that mocks Nazis, Chaplin did it, Lubitsch did it, even Mel Brooks did it – but to do it requires a refusal to be seduced and Iron Sky fails in that regard.

  3. Old Jim says:

    Bombing civilian targets with meteors, wishing the extermination of all who don’t conform to their ideals of genetic and moral purity, attempting the subjugation and enslavement of the world in ruins and torturing unarmed civilians for information is hardly glossing them over.

    They were used for a purpose in this film. Take a look at the scene at the beginning of the film. Naive teacher teaching innocent children the virtues of the Nazi ideology. And taken at face value they are indeed virtues. The scene is pure and the stark wrongness with what we, as the audience, know it represents is disconcerting. We know they are wrong, we know that we are right and we know they think the exact same thing.

    Now consider why James Washington was chosen for the mission to the moon. Because of his race and because he represented a modern view of correct bodily form. Not for any value of his character or his intellect or any sort of worth as a human being. It seems all right and well to give some one preferential treatment for reason inherently genetic and in doing so penalise others for not having them. In this way we poke fun at the American fixation with attempting racial equality by giving those the media deems fit preferential treatment.

    This film does mock the Nazis. It also mocks American culture and the popular stereotypes present in the public mind. The best example of this is in the conference room where the British representative is in tweed and a bow-tie, the American president is a caricature of Sara Palin and the North Korean representative tries to claim that the UFOs were personally designed and built by their Dear Leader.

    We also see the Indian representative with the swastika upon his ring and are reminded of how a symbol of benevolence can be twisted into something truly hideous. The knee jerk reaction of the rest of the representatives also draws attention to our own reactions of how we initially react to symbols regardless of the origins or deeper meanings of the symbols.

  4. rinehard wagner says:

    ja i loved the film,long boots black stockings ja fun and kinky too in a wacky way good fun

  5. Joe PC says:

    First, I’d like to commend both Martin and Old Jim – both viewpoints are very well thought out and both helped me consider my stance when I was sitting here in somewhat befuddled state while watching this on Amazon.

    I think the big keys here are length, scope, and perspective. Jim, I can see your POV quite clearly – but many of the points you made went by so fast in the movie that they were almost glossed over. It makes me really understand why Martin makes the point that the focus is more on the Nazis themselves and not their actions. I think, if the movie had been 25 minutes longer and had focused on those elements a little tighter it might have been easier to see the parody. However, had it been 25 minutes longer, any sense of funny it had probably would have gone out the window.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Martin’s point about trivializing people we don’t agree with or misrepresenting them. But I also feel Jim’s point here was very relevant – and because of the speed of the film I can’t for the life of me tell if they are poking fun at America, the Nazis, the UN, or all of them at once. If they had picked one target, I imagine the movie would have been a lot funnier – or, at the very least, would have a lot more of something. But their perspective was so untargeted that you can’t even be sure they intended some of the shots. Example: Anyone who’s ever been to NY knows why no one was listening to the guy ranting about Moon Nazis, but were they trying to make fun of the NYC evangelists, the attitude of people who live in NYC that things that crazy go totally unnoticed, or the irony that he’s right and no one cares? And this was, IMHO, one of the least ambiguous moments in the film.

    Which leads me to scope. Ok, folks. I know we live in the information age. I know our society basically requires you develop a strong case of ADD just to keep up. But dear god, could you pick a target?? Or 2? or 25?? I can literally count over 75 possible social, political, economic, and cultural targets this movie might have been gunning for. And I still have no idea at all who their primary target was. If either of you have any ideas there, I’d love to hear them.

  6. Jonny C. says:

    I feel that I must side with Old Jim on this one. It was a satirical film and you must not lose sight of that Martin. Perhaps much of it goes over many peoples’ heads, but I laughed at instances making fun of no less than 10 different groups. These United States of the Americas, the UN, the Nazis, the Tea Party… not to mention the plethora of knockoffs of other movies. I think maybe you should all step back and think of the audience. I don’t recall seeing this film hyped up for box offices for the average Joe to go see (no offense intended Joe PC). I picked to watch this film on Netflix because it sounded funny, and way more than simple humor is what I found.

  7. pilipili says:

    Joe PC got it spot on. If you consider Iron Sky a Nazi comedy, it is not especially outstanding. Too jerky, too cobbled-together (which is hardly surprising considering how it was produced, how much fan input went into the script).

    OTOH, if you have extensive background knowledge on Nazism (or Fascism in general) and German/US/world history, you’ll come to appreciate the finer points. The Great Dictator thing was simply brilliant, to even think that Chaplin’s masterpiece COULD be turned into a pro-Nazi short flick is outrageous. But it works, it is convincing. And that’s how fascism attracts its followers: by presenting them with a dumbed-down black-and-white stereotyped pseudo-reality.
    Another detail: “Kortzfleisch” is not just an incredibly whimsical name (at least to a German native speaker), but it also happens to be the name of a Nazi officer – presumably the Mondführer’s father – who was shot on the spot in early 1945, because when asked to surrender he gave the Nazi salute and screamed NEIN NEIN NEIN.
    Or the mad professor, who is essentially Einstein’s evil twin (separated at birth and thoroughly Aryanized one would presume). They could have made it a Mengele-type guy, but that would simply be cliché’d.
    Renate’s Great Spech is brilliant, and no, it was not just to poke fun at the Tea Party. The Palin-lookalike in fact uses Obama’s campaign slogan. She – or the Tea Party – was simply used as a convenient stand-in for populist politics in general.
    “The world is sick, and we are the doctors”. Think of that line every time you met one of those post-Cold War kids who yearn for The Great Collapse after which We Can Rebuild A Better World. It’s a common enough phenomenon among the apolitical or barely political youth in Western countries these days, the kind of people who idolize the Unabomber Manifesto etc. And if you know your history, and have heard of Jünger and Spengler and all that, you’ll know what decisive role this Nietzschean/Wagnerian cultural pessimism played in shaping the minds of a generation of young Germans so they’d latch themselves in ecstasy onto some failed landscape painter from the Waldviertel and his gang of thugs. It’s a very dangerous phenomenon of our time: the only generation that never experienced war, famine, disease, abject poverty is so tired of the abundance they live in that they are willing to throw it away for the sake of a bloodbath (coincidentially just as this progress turns out to be unsustainable and in need of urgent change – but not destruction, for given the resource scarcity – another point addressed throughout IS via the He-3 plot thread – odds are that most technologies we’d lose in a collapse, we’d lose forever). Of course, in their minds, it’s always the Others that will pay the blood price. They, the élite of the New World, will survive. Because “the world is weary, but they are the strength”. Because they are “the promise delivered to all mankind”. Facts are unnecessary if you have the tune of a shining, glorious ideology to march to.
    Renate’s speech may be the “ideological” centerpoint of the movie, because it demonstrates how rank Nazism can be turned into the prospect of a golden age – how it WAS, in fact, turned into just that. And the speech ends with “The Truth Makes Us One!” Well, the standard claim about the Truth is that it shall make us free, no? The Bible says so, the CIA says so. This insignificant twisting of words of words – truth replaced by national unity – strikes home true and deep. IF you realize it’s there.
    And then the movie’s dance with feminism – Vivian Wagner, fully post-feminist and constantly out-testosteroning the men around her, contrasted with Renate Richter’s bumpy road to empowerment, from a mere mouthpiece and womb to a woman sui generis who thinks and acts independently.
    And the Downfall parodies, Strangelove parodies galore etc. – Götz Otto as Adler is brilliant, but you have to know Downfall (or one of the Günsche-informs-Hitler memes) to realize just how brilliant. Adler the personified Übermensch is all that Günsche the unambitious two-dimensional aide was not.

    So that’s the level on which this movie works. If anything, it is too deep, too biting to be coherent. It is too easy to miss most of the good stuff, leaving a somewhat cheap scifi action flick. But there is more. It is – to those who can understand it all – one of the most poignant exposures of fascism there is[*]. It takes The Promise Delivered and twist and turns it til you scream. It shows how a pathological way of thinking can trickle into the political mainstream, whenever a people is tired of reality and yearning for Hope. One scholar said the Nazis were “the re-valuation of all [social] values”, which is not strictly true, but true insofar that they took something nominally good – hope for Truth, Clarity, Decency – and turned it into tools of extermination.

    And that is quite an achievement, considering the fact that the last living witnesses of Hitler’s sweeping rise to power – those who experienced first-hand this sweet poison and became drunk on it, and paid the price for it yet lived to reflect on it – are senile and dying, and soon the siren song of death and glory will be swept from living memory, leaving us living people naive to its tune, and history ready to repeat itself.

    What the (Western) world needs these days is a vaccine against the lure of the Manichaean, the snares of populism. At least to those that get the fine points, Iron Sky delivers like few movies have ever delivered.

    Darkness will turn you blind temporarily. To be truly blinded forever, you have to See The Light.

    Lest we forget: “Never again!”

    * Most Nazi movies paint them simply as villains. But this is less significant historically; Villains there are many, Stalin killed more people than Hitler if mere numbers are concerned. What makes the Nazis arch-villains is that they managed to sell a war of extermination – the most inhumane deed in modern if not all of history, a denial of all that is human – as a necessary, charitable and fully pure act. And to a lot of otherwise very intelligent people. How could they ever? Iron Sky answers this question better than Downfall, or in fact almost any other movie made about the Nazis.

    Consider: the US presidential election of 1999 was technically far more flawed than the German elections of 1932/33. Hitler, the antithesis of freedom and democracy, came to power by a shockingly free and democratic process (by the standards of its time) and by millions of people.
    As Brecht put it in his Ui: “The bosom that spawned this / It is fertile yet.”[**]

    ** usually translated as “The bitch that spawned this / Is in heat again”, but this is not what Brecht wrote or meant.

  8. Cordelia says:

    Holy balls. The author is impossibly dense.

  9. Thank you, Cordelia, for that insightful and surprisingly accurate comment. I am, in fact, entirely constructed from Neutronium. Well spotted!

  10. My Name says:

    They failed to demonstrate why Naziism is truly to be abhorred because they’re leftists. Leftists don’t know why Naziism is to be abhorred.

    If they did, they wouldn’t pride themselves on being open-minded and all about personal liberty as they seek to make laws that force those that disagree to agree by penalty of law.

    They don’t know why Naziism is to be abhorred because they don’t know why it’s wrong to force someone to spend money on something that offends their religion, nor why it’s wrong to force someone to be accepting of that which their religion says is wrong.

    Most of the things leftists believe today is based on rhetoric, hype, emotions, and simple hearsay. Most of what they believe, they believe it because they were told too. That’s why when Bush did one thing, they could rail and riot against it, and then when Obama did the same thing, but much worse, they still can’t but sing his praises for it.

    The reason, and this is the fundamental reason, why the typically leftist has such difficulty distinguishing actual Naziism from anything they’re told to hate, is because actual Naziism has become a far closer kin to today’s liberalism and left wing than actual liberalism ever has been.

    It wasn’t the RNC where Jerusalem being the Capital of Israel was taken out, where more than half of the people there yelled how Jerusalem should not be reinstated into the Democrat National Platform as Jerusalem should be the Capital of Israel.

    It’s not the right’s presidents that will go to great lengths in order to make presidents and kings of Islamic nations happy while not even bothering to travel 2 hours out of his way to even meet with Israel’s president.

    It’s not the right wing’s presidents who’s only real policies on terror have been focused on controlling and monitoring not terrorists, but citizens of their own nation. Bush made the Patriot Act, then Obama made it several times more powerful and started an unprecedented spying program that extended, not across the Islamic nations so much where the terrorists actually were, but across the free-world nations.

    It’s not the right wing presidents who get compliments from dictators on their policies, it’s not the right wing president that a man like Putin praises not a few months after calling America a leech on the world.

    It’s not the right wing presidents who act like they’re fighting a war and never getting anywhere. Under Bush Al Qaeda and the Taliban were both reduced to small groups of unorganized terrorists all doing whatever they can to drive the U.S. out of Iraq, because Iraq had nothing to do with terror according to the left’s politicians.

    The left may not believe in Naziism, but you take the combination of leaders who are constantly stepping on rights and the constitution to increase their power over the people, a people who believes whatever they’re told, a domination of 95% of news media, of which you are a part, a domination of the information provided to our most impressionable, children and schools, and a side that is accustomed to using rhetoric, emotions, kids, insults, and lots of nothing to drive people into frenzies like the Occupy Movement, and while they may not believe in Naziism, it won’t be long before they progressively believe in something that is indistinguishable from Naziism, sort of like how Communism was in opposition to Naziism, but shared most of their most fundamental ideological principles regarding economics and control over the common man.

    I, for one, find it fascinating how today, when people have become even more corrupt, less moral, and more greedy, that today, the left would be convinced that the free-world’s progression towards the ideals that every modern dictator has espoused would actually be for the good of the people rather than their detriment.