GOOD. 2008. DIRECTED BY VICENTE AMORIM. BASED ON THE STAGE PLAY BY C.P. TAYLOR. STARRING VIGGO MORTENSEN, JASON ISAACS, JODIE WHITTAKER AND GEMMA JONES. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy is as decent a man as ever you might find in a day’s walk. He’s noble and honourable, he always does the right thing and he’s fearless enough to square up to a band of fierce, hideously ugly Orcs all on his tod without turning a hair. Unfortunately, his character in GOOD isn’t quite so, well, good, haha.
Mortensen plays a struggling writer and professor of literature living in Germany in the ’30s and ’40s, which you’ll of course know were the Hitler years. John Halder (the professor) has a rather dithery piano-playing wife, a couple of kids and his invalid mother all squashed together under his cramped roof. His best friend Maurice is a Jewish psychiatrist, played by Jason (Lucius Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER films) Isaacs.
John and his best friend go back a long way. They fought side-by-side for Germany in the First World War in battles like Ypres and Paschendaele. They both despise the ideals of the Nazi Party. John, however, shrugs them off and even tells his friend that ‘Hitler’ll never last,’ but the friend, being Jewish and already having much to fear from the Nazis, is deeply worried. And not without good reason, as I think we all already know.
Big changes are all set to happen in John’s life when we meet him. One of his students from the University, a pushy blonde tart called Anne, deliberately sets out to have an affair with him and take him away from his family. She encounters surprisingly little resistance from John, who displays the most despicable moral turpitude in allowing himself to be led by his you-know-what into first the affair and then a marriage with Anne, after presumably divorcing his first wife, Helen.
The second major change in John’s life is much more disturbing. See, he’s written this book about a man who mercy-kills his wife who has an incurable illness. The book comes to the attention of none other than Hitler himself, who orders that John be made to write a treatise on so-called ‘euthanasia’ to justify what we now know as ‘the final solution.’ John has no choice but to comply with the Fuhrer’s command. He writes the paper.
Before long, John has become a ‘consultant’ in mercy-killing for the Nazis, who are keen to avoid looking like murderers. They want it known that their mercy-killings are in the interests of so-called ‘humanity’ only. Surely in his heart of hearts, John knows that the Nazis’ wholesale slaughter of the sick, the old and the disabled is as far from being in the interests of humanity as it’s possible to get.
Like the lily-livered coward he is, however, he says nothing. He allows himself to be pressured into joining the hated Nazi party, to the horror of his best friend, the Jewish psychiatrist. He’s even made an honorary member of the SS, for Chrissakes, with a big fancy ring on his finger to show for it. He’s given a big fancy promotion at the University, too, and all it costs him is his principles. I like that line. It sounds like the tagline for a movie. ‘All it cost him was his principles…!’
His pushy wife Anne, who by now is knocked up, is only too thrilled to witness her hubby’s going-up-in-the-world. There’s a rather disturbing scene in which she kneels in front of him with the obvious intention of giving him oral sex, purely because she’s turned-on by the sight of him in his full SS regalia. Oh Aragorn, how could you…? That’s right, it’s as if Aragorn suddenly decided to ditch The Fellowship to go and work for Sauron just because Sauron could afford to pay a little more. That’d sure be a pretty lousy thing to do, wouldn’t it…?
Then John’s best friend is picked up by the Nazis and spirited away to God-knows-where. What, if anything, does John do about it? After all, he’s already failed his dear friend once. The friendship between the two men is so sad and moving, especially when it seems that John cares less for their special bond than his friend. The scene with Maurice offering John his home-made cheesecake made me cry.
Gemma Jones does a great job as the invalid mother. The ‘musical’ scenes are of special interest. And watch carefully the scene in which John is shown a group of people with Downs’ Syndrome and other disabilities who’ve been selected for ‘mercy-killing on the grounds of humanity.’ ‘After all, what kind of life is that…?’ says the man showing him around the hospital. It would chill the blood in your veins, especially in view of the fact that we know this stuff actually happened under Hitler’s rule.
The film is excellent, but it’s unsettling too. It perfectly captures the feeling of fear and unease felt by the Jews in wartime Germany. Watch it, but you might not sleep terribly comfortably afterwards. I know I surely didn’t.