January 25, 2005
Saw Polar Express at a free screening at MIT last night. Guy pointed out the fascist imagery in the Santa scenes:
That sea of red is a bunch of elves dressed in their red uniforms. And the storyline — kidnapping and brainwashing/re-educating a doubting kid to blindly believe — is a bit fascist as well. It is a very bizarre film. I did a Google search and it seems a few others have noted the overtones:
Then came the second part of the movie, and I was literally shocked and
disturbed. The creators of the film depicted christmas at the northpole
with pictures that could’ve come out of “Triumph des Willens” (“Triumph
of the will”) — large squares filled with christmas elves marching towards
a big christmas tree, dancing a weird form of Nazi ballet. The protagonists
stumble into a sort of surveillance room where evil-mooded elves are
video-surveilling every child in the world — and when one child is singled
out for having been bad, an infinite loop of the child denying what he did
“I didn’t do it – I didn’t do it – I didn’t do it” is shown on a large
number of screens… When the protagonists stumble back to the big
square full of elves, and Santa appears, you think the Fuehrer himself is
supposed to appear. It sent chills down my spine.
Things get even weirder from here. The protagonists are a normal boy that
doubted the existence of christmas throughout the movie, a poor boy, and a
courageous black girl. Throughout the movie, the doubting boy is told to
“believe(!)”, without specifics as to what to believe etc. If he doesn’t
believe, he can’t hear the wonderful bells of Santa’s sled. The poor boy
who never had a christmas and always got the short end of everything is
told to be more optimistic. The black girl is told that she should “lead”.
So the advice given to the kids in this movie can be summed up as:
“Believe, don’t doubt !”
“Be optimistic, no matter what happens to you !”
“Some are born leaders and should lead !”
The german translation of the movie has another interesting property here -
the black girl, when told to “lead”, asks what that means — and I assume
the english version uses the word “leader” in the following explanations.
In German, the literal translation of “leader” (“Fuehrer”) is synonymous
with Adolf Hitler, and thus never used, and the german version of the movie
dodges the use of that word in an interesting way.
The really scary part was that all these things were presented as wonderful
events, full of joy etc. This movie basically tells kids: Big rallies with
flags, chorals when important leaders appear, surveillance of everybody are
not only OK, but they’re just what Santa does.
The movie ends with the doubting boy being a believer and thus capable of
hearing the bells the parents aren’t able to hear. It reminded me of
phrase: “It does not matter what you think, because we’ve already convinced
I walked out of the movie, surprised, disturbed, and worried. I seriously
hope we can laugh heartily about this 20 years from now. I know that, having
grown up in Germany, my sensors for fascist propaganda methods is probably
a bit oversensitive, but this movie did not require being oversensitive to
smell the fascistoid (under?)currents.
This is not a movie I’d ever have a kid watch.
I don’t know that the film’s motives are as sinister as this guy implies, but then he’s German so he may be a bit sensitive. But it is certainly a bizarre film. I was more stressed out by the endless string of incidents putting the children into extreme danger.
Postscript: There was a family with a few kids a few rows down from us, and the kids’ delight with the movie was quite clear, which was both heartwarming and disturbing.