There are some movies that are so obsessively made and complicated that it’s a wonder my brain doesn’t just go into a complete overload. Covering historical topics, especially controversial ones, can either make a film go down as a classic that explored cultural significance with panache, or be dismissed as disgusting pieces of unrealistic propaganda. Enter Uli Edel’s exceptional 2008 film, The Baader Meinhof Complex. This is a really extraordinary piece of historical film making that takes a look at a violent time throughout the world without taking sides, but simply tells a story. Of course as accurate and beautiful it is, problems with the pacing and the run time would have made this film an even better mini series.
The year is 1967 and the world seems to be overrun by violence from America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Each of these conflicts seem to wrap around another, and there is fear in Germany of another Fascist state. Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) is a left wing journalist who meets up with two young revolutionaries Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek). Putting together their political ideals and their own personal opinions, they start a group called the RAF, which stands for the Red Army Faction. The group begins almost innocently enough with plans to just rob banks in the name of the people, but soon they become more deadly and earn the title as one of the most notorious group of terrorists ever to exist.
Even writing this synopsis is hard since this movie deals with ten years of jam packed history. Events flashed by before I even had a chance to process what was happening and really digest the significance of it all. It got me thinking about the mini series John Adams, a piece of work that I argue is the most beautiful thing ever to be filmed. If that was made as a movie, the impact would not have been as significant because I wouldn’t have had the time to grow with the characters and fully understand all of the actions and events. That’s the only bad thing, really, about The Baader Meinhof Complex. Some of the most important scenes would happen as part of a montage, which isn’t really how a story should be told.
Since this movie is about history, I’d say that it’s important that the film makers got the history right. I hate watching movies that claim to be based on historical truth and then come to realize that that’s just a bunch of bullshit. What I didn’t realize before I started watching The Baader Meinhof Complex is just how historically accurate it actually is, down to how certain rooms are designed. Uli Edel looked at lots of different pictures and used the resource of biographer and writer of the book the movie is based on, Stefan Aust. The most impressive example of historical accuracy in this film is probably in the very beginning when the riots that ensued over the Shah of Iran at the Deutsche Oper, which resulted in the death of a student.
As you may have guessed, this is a very politically charged movie, but it never takes the sides of any one group. Sure, we’re supposed to sympathize with the leaders of the RAF for a while, but then our feelings dramatically change when they turn violent. Meanwhile, we sympathize with the government for needing to put an end to their terrorism, although we can’t fully get behind them either. Who we really are meant to feel for are the victims caught in the middle of the two powerhouses, even though that groups never gets a chance to speak for themselves. The violence that occurs in this movie, which many times involves innocent people, is sudden, realistic, and often shocking, which goes well with the historical accuracy behind the movie.
The Baader Meinhof Complex is a difficult movie, especially if you aren’t exactly an expert in European terrorism of the late ’60s and early 70s. Even if you aren’t, much like myself, you probably still know of how volatile the time was. It’s also difficult because things happen so quickly, so as to cover the amount of history that is jam packed into a two and a half hour long movie. Like I said before, this would have worked out so much better as a mini series, but that just isn’t how it went down. As it stands, The Baader Meinhof Complex is an interesting, exciting, and dramatic movie even though it has flaws of its own. Any history buff or lover of thrillers should miss out on this one.