Movie review: The Goebbels Experiment (2005)

Diary entries read over newsreels. Speeches played while images of war scroll pass. The Goebbels Experiment is a collection of Goebbels thoughts, in his own words, from his diary but also from some speeches he wrote. Goebbels was the master of propaganda from the rise of the National Socialists in Germany until the end of the war.

The Goebbels Experiment reveals the psychology of Goebbels. His experiences in childhood help explain his need to destroy others. He was shunned and unaccepted. In his early adulthood, he dealt with depression, suicidal thoughts, a lack of purpose. In the early days of the National Socialist movement, Goebbels repeatedly displayed paranoia in his diary. Others were always out to get him, turning against him, couldn’t be trusted. The SS was busy spreading rumors about him. He was always being attacked. He loved Hitler and then would lose faith in him…then love him, then lose faith in him…round and round again.

Some recurring themes in his diary were of no surprise. His arrogance and superiority over others and his expression of the superiority of the Germans over everyone else were to be expected. And the hatred he showered on the Jews was par for the course.

However, several themes struck me. The repeated call for revolution. German society needed a revolution, he claimed. He described the need to liberate people from slavery. Slavery from what wasn’t clear from the context. He pushed for total war, even as Germany crumbled around his feet. The church was co-opted. The party was the church. And attacking Russia wasn’t to occupy Russia. It wasn’t to claim the great cities of Russia. It was to destroy Russia completely.

What I didn’t get from Goebbels diary was the why. Why was there hatred against the Jews, against others? Why did he advocate total war? What was the point of the war? If war was not the end, but the means, the means to what? To destroying everything non-German? Why destroy everything non-German? How did destruction become a raison d’etre?

The Goebbels Experiment will leave you wondering why. I am no closer to understanding why except perhaps pointing to Goebbels own insecurities and early experiences that scarred him. Unfortunately, he had the opportunity, as the head of propaganda, to give free reign to these insecurities and sense of rejection by aiding and abetting in the destruction of others.

Spoiler alert: The bodies at the beginning and end of the movie were Goebbels: him, his wife, and his six children. I realized he killed himself, but I didn’t know how…or that he and his wife had planned to kill their children.

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