The Empty Mirror (1997)


USA. 1997.


Director/Story – Barry J. Hershey, Screenplay – Barry J. Hershey & R. Buckingham, Producer/Visual Effects Supervisor – David R. Johnson, Photography – Frederick Elmes, Music – John Frizzell, Special Effects Supervisor – Dean Miller, Production Design – Tim Colohan. Production Company – Walden Woods Films


Norman Rodway (Adolf Hitler), Peter Michael Goetz (Sigmund Freud), Joel Grey (Josef Goebbels), Glenn Shadix (Herman Goering), Doug McKeon (The Typist), Camilla Soeberg (Eva Braun)


Attended by Josef Goebbels, Herman Goering and Sigmund Freud, Adolf Hitler writes his memoirs and reminisces over the Second World War, his rise to power and the way he manipulated public perception.

The Empty Mirror is a bizarre film. There has been a tendency to read it as fantastique – indeed, it premiered at Spain’s Fantasporto film festival. The idea of Adolf Hitler sitting with Sigmund Freud, Josef Goebbels and Herman Goering and discussing the War sounds like an alternate history akin to the Nazi Rules variant used in films like It Happened Here (1965), Fatherland (1994) and the tv series The Man in the High Castle (2015– ) and SS-GB (2017). However, this is an overly literal interpretation as there is no explanation offered as to how these characters came to be together and certainly no implied historical justification. The film, for instance, could just as easily be taking place in the afterlife.

Instead, what we have is something akin to a one-man stageplay wherein Adolf Hitler debates upon his media image. It isn’t but could easily be a one-man stage show. The unfortunate upshot of this means that the film is then reliant upon Norman Rodway to carry it. Norman Rodway was one of the true ham actors of the British acting industry. He delivers a ridiculously flowery Hitler. At 129 minutes running time, where he is present during every single scene, this makes for an excruciating film. Other performances are no better – Joel Grey makes for a ridiculously craven Josef Goebbels and Glenn Shadix a buffoonish Herman Goering.

Moreover, Norman Rodway is a Hitler far too ridiculously given to introspection, self-analysis and eloquence regarding presenting the truth of his historical actions. The real Hitler – and one easily revealed by the archival footage that the film screens a good deal of – is one who had a relationship with his crowds that was akin to a bullying bulldog. He was a person who believed in mythic notions of race and purity, yet when it came to presenting them in actuality was himself lazy, undisciplined and delighted in playing his subordinates off against one another. In effect, the film’s Hitler is a Hitler who has been bent out of shape to become a mouthpiece to echo one writer’s deconstruction of the Hitler myth. Here Barry J. Hershey seems under the assumption that he has something new to say – he doesn’t and only ends up reshuffling well-known historical facts. The end with Hitler trapped in his own projected image is an interesting resolution but by then about is the only point of interest in the film. The rest is just a one-man show dominated by Rodway’s shameless hamming and implausibly self-analytic Hitler.

Barry J. Hershey later released a director’s cut of The Empty Mirror known as A. Hitler (2010), although where most director’s cuts usually screen more unseen footage this actually runs ten minutes shorter. Elsewhere, Hershey has made the documentaries Casting About (2005) about the casting process and Leading to War (2008) about the lead up to the 2003 Iraq War

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