by Hope Madden
Documentarian Luke Holland’s latest is a last call, in effect. He wanted to ask, explicitly, how Hitler managed all the harm he inflicted. How is it possible, all that horror? And he needed to ask now, before it’s too late.
Holland visited with surviving Nazis: SS soldiers and airmen, concentration camp guards and neighbors, and one-time Nazi youths. What he uncovers as his film progresses and his questions build on answers and dig into ambiguities is a human tendency to adjust, to accept, to shift blame.
Some sharp-eyed and logical, some eaten with guilt, some cagey, some still fully committed to the cause, Holland’s subjects run the gamut. Their testimony is haunting, not just because of the specifics being remembered. Yes, it is chilling to hear so many nonchalantly recount the day-to-day atrocities they witnessed. But in recalling the methods used from their youngest days to indoctrinate them, and in reminiscing about how ardently they believed, you begin to see how easily it could all happen again.
Though many of those Holland speaks to offer sincere remorse at what they did, most do not. In this way, Final Account more often than not boils the blood. While some simply chalk involvement up to ignorance or pressure, some still feel honored to have been considered “elite.”
This oral history challenges rationalizations. It doesn’t accuse, doesn’t accost, but it also doesn’t let anyone off the hook. What is the difference between being complicit and being a perpetrator? It’s a question that haunts the film and its subjects. It becomes clear that it’s a question that haunts a nation.
There was an urgency about this documentary. Not only were Holland’s subjects far advanced in years, but Holland himself was nearing the end of his own life. A testament and memorial to his own grandparents who were murdered by Hitler’s followers, Final Account also represents the last film. The director died just a month before its premiere.