For a thoroughly fascinating true glimpse into the horrors that vanity and self-delusion can wreak, check out The Baader Meinhof Complex.
The film is a deluxe German production - 150 minutes - meticulously directed by Uli Edel (Last Exit to Brooklyn), written by Bernd Eichinfgger (Downfall) and starring some of Germany's best actors: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek and Bruno Ganz. These estimable talents come together to tell the story of the Red Army Faction, a German terrorist group that formed in the late '60s and dominated headlines in the 1970s.
The filmmakers adopt the wise stragey of never imposing their judments on the viewer. Instead, working off of transcripts and real-life accounts, they simply re-create the Red Army Factions exploits, in accordance with the historical record. Ultimately, the film emerges as an exegesis of a certain mentality, alive and well in the 1970s, as well as a cautionary tale about the dangers of groupthink. People who easily might have gone through life peaceful end up committing atrocities against their fellow citizens - while deluding themselves that they're on the side of right.
The Baader Meainhof Complex contains four remarkable performances. The most chilling in its strange elusiveness and truth is that of Gedeck, who plays Ulrike Meinhof. Here was a married woman with children, who had a good job as a journalist and left-wing columnist. And then one day she chucked everything and picked up a machine gun. Gedeck (The Lives of Others, Mostly Martha), an actress very good at suggesting something weak or skewed beneath a smooth facade, brings that quality to Meinhof.
Bleibtreau has the role of Andreas Baader, playing him as a kind of charismatic thug, who can spout Marxist ideology to serve his every selfish end. In a less flashy role, Ganz (Downfall) makes an equally strong impression, bringing wiliness and introspection to the role of Horst Herold, the head of the German police force. Harold realizes that to catch terrorists he needs to think like one, to understand their motivations and goals - or, as he puts it, to understand the "myth" that they live with.
And no one is more deeply immersed in the while myth than Gudrun Ensslin, Baader's girlfriend and partner in crime. As played by Wokalek, Gudrun never doubts her own virtue or judgment. Rather, Wokalek plays her as the kind of person who could burn other people to death and yet think of herself as a modern Joan of Arc. We might see Lady Macbeth. She sees herself as an underdog beset by the faithless, and as a visionary with the courage to see the obvious that others would deny. Along the way, Wokalek goves viewers something valuable, a portrait of murderous evil that is, at once, perfectly human and understandable.
How could anybody think that firebombing a department store in West Germany could be justified as a protest against - get ready - America's involvement in Vietnam? This is the madness portrayed in The Baader Meinhof Complex, a rare epic that deserves every minute of its epic length. Director Uli Edel has a feel for the era's internal and external life, for both its mentality and for the ways in which violence is played out on the street.