In ‘Operation Finale,’ Everybody Shits
New film asks us to consider Nazis' humanity
The thing about keeping a captive war criminal hidden in a safe house while you wait to escape South America is that, at some point, the war criminal is going to need to shit. Pooping is at the heart of Operation Finale’s best scene.
Operation Finale is a new film about the 1960 capture of Adolf Eichmann, starring Ben Kingsley as Eichman and Oscar Isaacs as captor Peter Malkin. In the scene, Eichmann has a potty emergency and begs his captors for relief.
As he’s dropping his deuce, he monologues about a time when he was a nine-year-old child and he embarrassed his father by taking a massive dump at his father’s place of business. “I think about it all the time, even now,” Sir Ben Kingsley says at fart noises echo over the soundtrack. “Papa, everybody shits.”
One of the Israeli special agents giggles, then catches himself.
This bit of toilet humor is the best part of the movie. That’s not to say the movie is bad. It’s good, but that its strength comes from forcing its audience to take the Nazis for what they were. Humans. Terrible humans, to be sure, but humans all the same. Everybody shits.
After Berlin fell, Eichmann fled Germany with his family and settled in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A chance interaction with his son led Israeli Nazi hunters to South America where they confirmed Eichmann’s identity and snatched him as he was on his way home from work at a Mercedes-Benz plant.
The film, like all historical dramas, plays fast and loose with the facts. The filmmakers switched the gender of an Israeli agent to give Isaacs a love interest, for example. But Operation Finale gets the broad strokes correct and puts to screen one of the most grimly entertaining portions of the whole affair.
Tasked with smuggling a known Nazi war criminal onto a plane back to Israel, the agents dressed Eichmann as an airline pilot and shot him up with a sedative. As they carried the, apparently hungover, pilot through the airport, the agents explained that their friend had had too much fun in Argentina. And so it was that Eichmann cruised to his fate in a scene that resembles Weekend at Bernie’s.
If it were just a straight telling of the events and toilet humor, Operation Finale would be fine. Kingsley channels Eichmann well, presumably based on footage of his which Israeli broadcast to the world, and Isaacs is always charismatic.
But Operation Finale does a little more than that. It asks the audience to consider the humanity of a person like Eichmann and, at times, to sympathize with him. That’s why Eichmann — this architect of destruction and death — has a very human moment on the toilet.
The agents capture Eichmann halfway through the film and spend the back half dealing with him as they try secure safe passage out of the country. During these moments, Malkin interacts with Eichmann in an attempt to get him to, if not confess, then at least sign a document saying he’s willing to travel to Israel for trial.
It’s the back and forth between Eichmann and Malkin that’s the meat of the film and the point at which Eichmann begs, like a nine year old, to take a shit. In these moments Eichmann is manipulative, but also a doting father and a fragile older man.
The Nazis were human beings. The men and women who planned and executed the Holocaust were living, breathing people with families, dreams, worries, bills and fears. That statement isn’t meant to excuse or pardon their horrific actions, but to put them in context.
When we look at the atrocities of the past we tend to abstract them. The Nazis have become cartoon villains in countless video games and movies. The aesthetics of Nazi fascism are now the aesthetics of super-villainy.
But we have to remember that behind the jack boots and the burning crosses are humans. People are capable of great evil and to remember that it’s people, and not an existential evil, that’s behind the horrors of the Holocaust is one of the most important things we can remember about the tragedy.
It will help us prevent another genocide. It will help us stop the genocides going on right now.