Hidden Netflix Gems: The Baader Meinhof Complex

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “The Baader Meinhof Complex” (2008)

Rebels? Radicals? Criminals? Heroes? Martyrs? Murderers? Victims? Villains? Icons? 

“The Baader Meinhof Complex” is a 2008 film detailing the early history of a West German far-left extremist group who named themselves the Red Army Faction. To the public however, the group was generally known as the “Baader Meinhof Gang.” The nickname was a media invention centered around two of the group’s foremost members: ringleader Andreas Baader and former journalist Ulrike Meinhof. Both the film and the 1985 non-fiction book by Stefan Aust on which it is based altered the label to include the word “Complex” because they focus not just on the gang itself but on the tangled labyrinth that was the collective German psyche just 20 years after the death of Adolf Hitler—a volatile environment that was as instrumental in the eventual creation of the group as its members themselves.

The Red Army Faction was founded in 1970 (although the film begins three years earlier) by the radicalized “children of the Nazi generation who had grown up in the ruin their parents created.” The group’s early goals were strikingly similar to those of the American counter-cultural (or “hippie”) movement, on paper anyway. They spoke out against Western imperialism and its chief contemporary example, the war in Vietnam. But what makes the RAF so intriguing is that while the American peace movement sputtered out with a whimper, the gang refused to die, with a bang or otherwise. Its members do not give up when its goals cannot be met through peaceful protest—they saw that as a foregone conclusion. Rather, they are always willing to fight, always willing to take it to the next level. And that’s where the intrigue comes from. First it’s destroying property, all the while ensuring that no one comes to harm. But before you (or the more cautious characters) know it, it’s shootouts with police, killing innocent civilians, even hijacking a plane, and all in the name of justice and equality. As such, “The Baader Meinhof Complex” is a look at the most slippery of slopes, how one thing leads to another, how the goals you’re fighting for and your principles regarding what you’re willing to do to accomplish them can be crystal clear one day and so terribly confused the next.

Up there in bold is a quote from the film’s trailer (see it below). It asks which, if any of those words, correctly describes the Red Army Faction. Of course, all that asking is very much rhetorical. Anyone who’s heard of the Baader-Meinhof Gang is likely to have a different opinion of them. Whether they were rebels or criminals, heroes or villains and so on, is all in the eye of the beholder.

“The Baader Meinhof Complex” has been certified fresh and currently sits at an 85 percent on the Tomatometer. Furthermore, it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 81st Academy Awards. Although anyone who’s not a big fan of German cinema is unlikely to see any familiar faces (the only actor I knew was Bruno Ganz, having seen him play Adolf Hitler in “Downfall”), the film is still highly enjoyable. The real world tends to be a tad more boring than the movies, so often historical filmmakers must sacrifice reality for drama or vice-versa. “The Baader Meinhof Complex” is the rare film that refuses to forfeit either, blending historical accuracy with intrinsic excitement value and characters so well-developed you’re almost able to understand their thinking by the end. Almost. Despite its two and a half hour running time, “Baader Meinhof” is incredibly fast paced, I suppose it has to be when attempting to squeeze ten years of intimate detail into a feature film. It might be hard to keep up at times, and you will have to read subtitles, but it’s well worth it at the end, when you’ve earned the right to make the decision about which (if any) of those bold words correctly describes the RAF.

Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday.