Sacha Baron Cohen, Is That You?


Title: Looks Who’s Back

Rating: 3 Stars

The high concept plot for this book is that instead of committing suicide, Adolf Hitler went into some kind of suspended animation and comes to in the year 2011. He tries to adjust to his new surroundings and to pick up his plans where he left off.

I saw the German movie (subtitled) some time ago and enjoyed it. I imagined that the novel would be an even richer exploration of this theme. In fact, it was at best a mixed bag. Having just now re-read my movie review, I have to conclude that this is one of those rare occasions where the movie is legitimately better than the book.

Perhaps some of the challenges exists in the fact that there are three distinct threads of humor that take place throughout the novel.

One is that of the classic fish out of water. Hitler essentially exists in one moment in 1945 and in the very next moment exists in the year 2011. Moving abruptly from war ravaged Germany to the completely re-built Berlin is a huge shift for him. And of course, many other things have changed as well.

He can’t get over women picking up their dog’s feces. He imagines that these are barren women driven mad with grief that they cannot have children and thus treat their dogs like precious children. He interprets many events as a result of the British blockade (that has clearly been over for about 70 years).

Modern conveniences baffle him. He has no idea what to do with a television. He is perplexed by a computer and a mouse.

However, he proves adept. Quickly he learns how to surf the internet and this allows him to come up to speed with the world around him and allows him to begin to form a plan to once again assume a position of leadership.

This leads to the second main thread of humor. It is a satire on how irony has completely permeated our culture and its resulting response to a completely non-ironic person.

Hitler being Hitler, can’t stop acting like Hitler. He says absolutely outrageous things. Everyone assumes he’s being ironic, so just laugh at him. In fact, everyone is convinced that he’s a sublime comic genius who, much like Sacha Baron Cohen, never breaks character.

He gets a segment on a television show and through his, what he believes are heartfelt tirades of the importance of German nationalism but the audience thinks are subtle critiques of the same, becomes a star. He creates youTube videos and becomes an internet sensation. He manipulates the press into giving him broader, more sympathetic coverage.

Ironically, the only people that really disapprove him are the real German nationalists. They assume he is a Jew mocking Hitler and administer a severe enough beating that he ends up in the hospital

Even in the hospital, he is planning the formation of his own show and is plotting how to use that as a vehicle to launch himself back into politics. His new show’s motto? “It wasn’t all bad”.

All of this is told in first person from the viewpoint of Hitler. That in itself is the third source of humor. As he’s going about his now somewhat mundane existence, his inner thoughts are still of the supremely self-confident grandiloquent megalomaniac. This is especially amusing in the beginning, when he is truly helpless in the world and is living in a newspaper stand at its owner’s forbearance.

It was an amusing read, but I expected, at novel length, more depth. None of the three threads of humor are pursued far. In fact, I was hoping to see more depth surrounding the ironic culture dealing with a non-ironic throwback, but if anything, the movie dove deeper into this than the novel.

So, it was a fun read, but I was hoping for more.


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