Shorthand in Lara Croft II

It took me halfway through the film before I realized that the villain, Jonathan Reiss, was German. Part of that is due to my association with the actor portraying him, Ciarán Hinds, with very British costume dramas.

When I went back and re-watched the scenes where Reiss appears, I realized that in the beginning of the film his accent is definitely present, but light.  The scene where he confronts Croft in his lab, at about 1:05 in the movie, starts out with his accent being the strongest it is in the film, and then over the course of the scene slightly recedes.

Lara Croft II follows so many of action genre conventions (and plays against them in the unconventional last confrontation). As with so many action movies, German is short hand for evil. The confluence of different associations contributes to this figuration: Nazism, Nilhism, etc.  Actually, the laboratory scene contains many of the attributes of “German” evilness.  Reiss, being very scientific and analytic in a very scientific and analytic space, outlines a plan to kill off unworthy people— alluding to the Übermensch ideal.

Reiss’ closest henchman is also given a German accent and therefore, presumably a German identity. Yet, there is never a moment in the movie where the two conference in German, even when they are alone and might want to speak in their native tongue (like 20 minutes into the movie). The accent as a marker of their nationality is useful for storytelling, but the native German language it signals is not actually utilitarian inside of this filmic world.

Having Reiss’ Germaness define his evilness throws into question the purposing of the other depictions of nationality within the film.

At the same time, having the English (Croft is so very English) battle a German over control of resources in former colonial spaces references past colonial history. I wonder if Scott’s Irishness has any place within this discussion—especially because Ireland is also a formerly colonial place (seemingly one of the few we don’t visit).

This clip from the (excellent) British comedy Green Wing is a good analysis of the conventions of Germanness in film.


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