I keep thinking of this movie I saw a few years ago called “The Damned.” It was made in 1969, directed by Luchino Visconti. The story takes place in Germany in 1934 and concerns a powerful industrialist family in crisis. Chancellor Hitler is aggressively expanding his powers and needs weapons. The Von Essenbecks, who reign over a huge manufacturing empire, can jump on Hitler’s bandwagon and make a fortune by retooling to manufacture arms. Or they can play it safe and keep things status quo.
They sense what is happening to their country; nobody has any illusions about Hitler. But their dilemma is more complicated than simply pro- or anti-Hitler. They each must silently confront the question: Is this going to happen regardless of what we do? And if so, what’s the point of staying on the sidelines, really? Opportunity knocks.
What’s infinitely more important to them are their private motives, their personal stake in what happens next. Each is locked into an epic battle within the family, where all the ugliest wounds that so often fester in powerful families thrive: envy, greed, old grudges, even pure hatred.
There’s a slimy Aryan snake in their midst, a highly placed Nazi who knows exactly how to exploit the family’s weaknesses to set them against one another. He skillfully manages to put the good ones out of the way while manipulating the bad ones. In the end, all the dominoes fall perfectly, Hitler gets the guns he needs for the Night of the Long Knives, and Hitler has now consolidated power neatly and tidily.
Along the way we have the full gamut of perversions, just in case we missed the part about the moral vacuum: incest, murder, suicides, pedophilia, orgies, everything from soup to nuts.
The movie is not great cinema, as such; some parts are way over-the-top and it badly needed re-editing, but taken as a whole, it’s a fascinating and chilling glimpse into the situation we face now. Although we know these people are not good role models (to put it mildly), we also see how your own personal situation can back you into a corner where you feel you don’t have the luxury of ethics. You have to take any advantage you can get. Many Trump voters no doubt felt the same.
Those in positions of power, wealth, and influence in this country have to decide now. Trump is opening the door for the rich to get catastrophically richer. I’m waiting for a company or individual to stand up and say, “We’re not going to pollute the water, even though we could.” Imagine if the stockholders for the oil pipeline companies pressured the company to re-route around Native American land? Imagine if a major pharmaceutical company slashed the price of a life-saving drug because it was the right thing to do? Imagine if the Secretary of Education stepped down voluntarily, realizing she was not the best person for the job?
Why is this so unthinkable? When did civic duty become a joke? When did we start glamorizing tax cheats? What will it take for us to quit worshiping selfishness?
BTW, this movie is based on a real family and their company, still operating today.