The world première of The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot at Fantasia 2018
The title of Robert D. Krzykowski’s The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot both is, and is not, a spoiler unto itself. As amiably crotchety and ungainly as the elderly individual whom it describes, the title constitutes an entirely literal summation of the two key actions around which the film will pivot. It also announces a work of fiction, dressed in the guise of crypto-history. For we can be as certain, from the outset, that this man will be a figure of fantasy as we are sure that the Nazi dictator was not assassinated, and that the sasquatch does not exist. No matter how much the title may read as potted biography – or obituary – we know that this man is the stuff of myth. Indeed, this man will be a sort of American epic hero, embodying and exporting his homeland’s ethos (and mythos), and – like Homer’s Odysseus – both going to war and returning. Where the title is misleading (and not in a bad way), is in its tone. For while it promises off-the-wall gonzo insanity, the film will in fact deliver something altogether more sombre and melancholic – a meditation on the US’s changing times and values.
“The numbers are backward in real life, normal in the mirror – a mirror clock!” says Calvin Barr (played by Sam Elliott, now himself a legend, and on top form here), as he admires the timepiece hanging on the back wall of the barber shop owned by his younger brother Ed (Larry Miller). An old timer himself who is also lost in time, Calvin is a true gentleman, unassuming and taciturn, charming and generous, thoughtful and courteous to a fault – and with more than a hint of sadness about him. We also know, from the casual if reluctant way that he incapacitates three muggers, that it would be all too easy, but also a mistake, to underestimate his abilities. He lives mostly in his memories, triggered every time he looks in a mirror: memories of himself (played as a younger man by Aidan Turner) infiltrating the Third Reich and assassinating Hitler; and alongside these, although perhaps with much greater weight, memories of meeting and courting school teacher Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald) back home before being parted from his true love by the grubby demands of war. All this was decades ago. It is now 1987, and as Calvin lives with his dog and waits to die, he is approached once more by American top brass with a mission to save the world – a mission that fills him with grave uncertainty and regrets about his life, his country and himself.
“Mr America”, is the superheroic name by which the Russian contact (Nikolai Tsankov) addresses the determined young Calvin, before helping smuggle him over into Nazi Germany. Yet while Calvin acts on behalf of America, he is also increasingly at odds with it. A curious and capable polyglot in a land of the incurious, an honest and honourable man in a world of cheats, liars and braggarts, a softly spoken man surrounded by noise, and a hater of violence in a country full of it (and always ready to take it across its borders), Calvin may be “something mythic, legendary”, as an FBI agent (Ron Livingston) puts it, but he also deconstructs – only to reconstruct – great American myths. For like the talismanic toy dinosaur of his brother that Calvin carries everywhere in his pocket, the very qualities that Calvin personifies – rugged individualism, dedicated industry, freedom, mobility, truth, justice and the American way – are, as Calvin ages, becoming rare to the point of extinction, marking him too as something of a lost creature from another epoch. Calvin even deconstructs his own heroic feats. “That day I just killed a man,” he says of Hitler’s death, “what he stood for was unstoppable.”, adding “It’s nothing like the comic book you want it to be.” This awareness that the ‘monster’ of Nazi ideology lives on comes as a bitter reflection (through a distorting mirror clock) of his future – and our present – America, where the Alt-Right and neo-Nazism are once more in the ascendant. As for the Bigfoot that he must also reluctantly kill, “It doesn’t have big feet either,” he says, “not really living up to its name.” Here the legendary is brought right down to size, even if it still dies hard.
The superhuman acts stated so baldly in the film’s title might never actually take place anywhere but in Calvin’s imagination, to compensate for his own grief-stricken sense of inadequacy when confronted with a world that is far from ideal. Certainly there are hints of this peppered throughout the film, as obvious as a framed picture on the wall – and the assured, driven, super-efficient Calvin that we see first allegorically prefiguring the ‘curse’ of the coming Cold War’s tensions between Russian and America, and then infiltrating wartime Germany, is hard to reconcile with the faltering small-town naïf in the film’s pre-war American scenes with Maxine. Yet if these two life-defining events – killing Hitler, and then the Bigfoot – are mere fantasy, even so Calvin is unable to romanticise them entirely, always finding reality in all its shabby, painful imperfection nagging at him like the pebble in his shoe.
Split between two periods, the narrative of The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot is a fragmentary, time-leaping portrait of Calvin caught between youthful optimism and its world-weary opposite – and the ellipsis at its centre, skipping an entire generation, also figures the sense of deep, gaping loss running through the film. For while featuring deeds (two of them, to be precise) of improbable derring-do, it really isn’t “like the comic book you want it to be”, but more like an elegy. It is a lament for the dying of American decency – even if perhaps reports of its actual death may be premature…
Strap: Robert D. Krzykowski’s feature debut is a tall tale of two semi-mythic events set in no country for old men.
The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot at Fantasia 2018: https://fantasiafestival.com/en/films/the-man-who-killed-hitler-and-then-the-bigfoot
© Anton Bitel