On its surface, Look Who’s Back appears to be a politically incorrect excuse for unscripted comedy: an actor dresses up as Adolf Hitler and parades around 21st-century Germany. But this is no mere Ali G, Borat, or even the Amazing Racist. Actor Oliver Masucci doesn’t don the iconic mustache and hair to play history’s greatest monster as a mere fish-out-of-water dolt built specifically for jokes. When he’s playing Hitler, he’s trying to nail that character as closely as possible. And while he does find himself in a fair number of situations with comical misunderstandings, his ultimate goal is to hand out enough rope for the German public to hang themselves with. Based on his findings, he didn’t need much.
Adapted from a novel of the same title, Look Who’s Back (Er ist wieder da) sees Hitler awaken in 2014 in a flash of light, dazed and smoking on the grassy land of Germany. Trying to comprehend what has happened to the country and trying to catch up with history and politics, he finds a partnership with a struggling independent filmmaker—the filmmaker, impressed by who he believes to be a spot-on Hitler impersonator, takes him on a road trip to hopefully acquire a full-time job at a TV station. The road-trip element serves its purpose for traveling humor, both scripted and unscripted. There are the expected gags of Hitler trying to comprehend mobile technology and getting into a brutal struggle with a dog. But when he starts talking to German citizens, he’s impressed with how well they take to his political beliefs. Sure, the neo-Nazis take to him easily, but it’s surprising how quickly some of the older citizens are willing to embrace his ideals on immigration and reforming of government.
The road trip is thankfully limited to the first act for most of the humor. In the second act, the presumed Hitler impersonator is accepted by a German television network for a comedy program. It seems as though he’d fit right in with a provocative skit show that has no qualms with cracking jokes about Muslims and black people, and Hitler is trotted out with the expectation of him being a politically incorrect caricature for laughs. But Adolf has been around the 21st century long enough to recognize the potential of television. Choosing his words carefully, he uses his segment of the program to speak to the public with his best methods of rallying them. They slightly chuckle as he begins, but slowly start agreeing with his methods and ideas. Hitler has found his avenue to get back in the game. And once he discovers the wealth of knowledge present on the Internet, he is entirely confident with making his way back to the political stage.
Look Who’s Back is a satire more about how well Hitler adapts to current society than how comically he can’t. Though not intended as a jokey incarnation of the dictator, he does have his moments of dark comedy and intelligence. While traveling in a car, for instance, Hitler is confused as to why the rap music on the radio features the N-word. The driver informs him that the word has a different meaning now, meaning “comrade” or “friend.” Hitler has a big laugh at this information, informing the driver that even in his day he knew that word only had negative connotation—and yet, he attempts to fit in by using it around Germany as slang for friend. This makes Hitler appear ridiculous, but only in how society has changed to slightly warp his adaptive abilities. Of course, there are a handful of simpler gags, as when Hitler is maddened to discover his name is already taken for an email address. And there’s even the moment of darkly offensive comedy when Hitler shoots a dog for biting him and then plays with its corpse as a puppet. Poor taste? Sure, but remember, this is Hitler were talking about.
The response of Hitler’s rise from comedian to political figure is met with mixed responses. Those who find him to be a joke laugh jovially and think nothing much of his rantings before they start appealing to their instincts. Those who find him offensive want nothing to do with him, thinking his style and ramblings to be a detriment to society that must be addressed. As mentioned in the film, the most shocking part about Hitler isn’t so much the person as the presence of his ideals. Adolf Hitler is not portrayed in this picture as a cartoonishly racist grandpa, but an emulation of the figure for all his political leanings. It’s both a comedy and an experiment to see how far Hitler’s catastrophic ideas could go in the current political climate of Germany.
Through the fictional narrative, Hitler begins to command a higher presence to the point where he dominates television, writes his own book, and receives a movie deal based on his book. There is one particularly hilarious scene that perfectly parodies the iconic scene from Downfall when a network executive struggles to maintain his programs after losing Hitler. It is during this third act that the film raises the question of how you can stop Hitler when he has come so far. He has won the hearts of the people with his passion to tear down and reorganize the government that the enraged find so appealing. When the few who discover that this Hitler is the real deal, they’re too late. Even if they can kill Hitler, his seeds of warping the world have already been planted.
Hitler’s name is thrown around as a pejorative so freely on the Internet, often in reference to those a commenter doesn’t happen to agree with. Our society views him as a monster, but few seem to comprehend how it was that he rose to such a position of power despite his monstrosity. Look Who’s Back is a chilling reminder of how easy it is to go down the path of global disaster if we can’t learn from history. In these tense times of racial conflict, global terrorism, and political unrest, it becomes that much easier to slip down the slope we don’t realize is so slippery. We have entered an era that demands change where the end is more tantalizing than the means. Hitler promises what many desire: reactionary action based on emotion. He’s not interested in humanity or ethics. Such traits do not serve well on his road to prosperity and purity.
The picture ends in the most telling of tones to nail home the importance of this satire. In catching up with current events, Hitler views real footage of modern riots, rallies, war and terrorism. He remarks assuredly that he can work with this to his benefit.