Monday, July 13, 2009

Bruno: Scratch an Austrian and Find A Nazi? Nein!

Bruno, the eponymous main character in the new Sacha Baron Cohen film, makes several references to Nazism and Hitler. These references include a quick goose step, a stiff arm salute, and a nostalgic reference to the way Bruno's fellow Austrian was ultimately treated by the world. The simplest conclusion to make is that Bruno demonstrates what some people presume to be a fear about German-speaking people in the shadow of the Holocaust: support for the anti-Semitic and despotic beliefs behind their countries' tragic roles in history lie just beneath the surface.

Were this the truth, Austrians and Germans watching the film would have even more right to condemn the film than the people of Khazakstan may have had to reject Borat.

Bruno's Holocaust-era references need to be taken in context with Bruno's character. The main character's inability to see outside himself, combined with his self-aggrandizement, drive the comedy in Bruno. He is the buffon who makes us laugh not with him, but at him. With rare exception he is not Charlie Chaplin's little tramp, making fun of the hypocrisy of others. He is a modern Mr. Maggo, substituting for near-sightedness an egotistical weltenschaung blinding him to almost everything beyond the end of his, well, penis.

One could easily argue his Nazi-ish references are thus gratuitous. He would be no less of a fool without them. But Baron Cohen's inclusion of them allows him to make a mature and ultimately healing statement: only a fool would embrace any casual and cavalier references to the emblems of a history good people deeply regret. As a Jew, Baron Cohen's statement carries added wieght.

Every joke has to have its topper. One of the biggest and purest belly laughs in the film comes when Bruno zeros in on a headshot of Mel Gibson and calls him "The Fuhrer." Baron Cohen's phony character-in-search-of-celebrity disproves once and for all the canard that an anti-Semite lurks just beneath the skin of anyone with a German accent. How? Through Bruno's idol worship of a real celebrity who only needed a few too many drinks to reveal the anti-Semite living just below his.

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