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The Last Supper

The Last Supper

"You're alone with a young artist named Adolf Hitler. Do you kill him? Do you murder him there, even though he hasn't done anything yet?"

This question provides the backbone of The Last Supper, but the actual dilemma has more to do with the person answering the question than with Hitler — and in fact, five lustrums later, we could substitute his name with that of Donald Trump or Daniel Ortega or, for that matter, any SOB who disagrees with us.

The film centers on five Iowa graduate students who room together: Jude (Cameron Diaz), Pete (Ron Eldard), Paulie (Annabeth Gish), Marc (Jonathan Penner), and Luke (Courtney B. Vance). As their apostolic names suggest, the quintet is convinced that their opinions are tantamount to the Word of God. Unfortunately for them, no one is a prophet in their own land:

"We are liberals. We do the right thing."
"So how come the world is so screwed up?"
"Because we don't run the world."

The second best alternative to running the world is apparently to kill those who think they do; specifically, inviting conservatives to dinner, "and if they're such idiots that we can't convince them [to change their minds and retract their beliefs], well, you're sitting across from Hitler."

This reasoning is flawed for several reasons: 1) the original question presupposes retroactive knowledge of Hitler's crimes; 2) the guests cannot defend themselves because they don’t even know that they are being tried, not for crimes they have committed, but for crimes they could potentially commit in an indeterminate future; 3) “if they are so stupid that we cannot convince them” implies a failure on the part of the hosts, not the guests, who are the ones that suffer the consequences; 4) “We gave him every possible opportunity”, they say of one of his victims, by which they mean “between dinner and dessert”; and 5) none of the ordinary guests are in danger of being the next Hitler — fortunately, this requires a highly exceptional (though for the wrong reasons) individual.

Now, the filmmakers are fully aware that their protagonists are self-deluded, pseudo-intellectual, hypocritical brats, and as such don't expect us to identify with them; moreover, the casting of the guests is tailor-made so that we sympathize with them, and indeed, as much as we don’t agree – and we shouldn’t — with what they say, we cannot help enjoying how they say it, being played as they are by a supporting actor dream team (Bill Paxton, Charles Durning, Mark Harmon, Ron Perlman).

The filmmakers also subvert audience expectations by making the African-American Vance the de facto leader of these deranged liberals, while giving the uber-aryan Perlman the voice of reason (his answer to the Hitler question is extremely insightful in its categorical refusal to reduce the matter to a simplistic black-or-white); the takeaway is that ideologies are like the Emperor's new clothes, and underneath them we are much more alike than we would like to admit.