Amazon Prime’s new series Hunters has caused quite the controversy. In the show, a group of vigilantes hunts down Nazis who have fled to the United States. Video depictions of hunting Nazi exiles have been successfully executed in the past, such as in the films The German Doctor (2013) and Apt Pupil (1998). But where these other depictions were compelling psychological thrillers that explored questions of morality, Hunters, inspired by the suffering of creator David Weil’s grandparents, offers a weak plot line and a gruesome politicized caricature of the Nazis’ crimes and their victims’ responses.
The plot starts off simply: a young Jewish American, Jonah (Logan Lerman), sees his Holocaust survivor grandmother get murdered. Jonah helps to track down his grandmother’s killer, who turns out to be a former Nazi hiding out in America. During the search, Jonah is nearly killed but is saved by an old friend of his grandmother, Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino). Offerman introduces Jonah to “The Hunt,” in which Offerman and a ragtag band of vigilantes chase down Nazis. While the Hunters are engaged in their quest for vengeance, the Nazis are hell-bent on establishing a Fourth Reich. It’s quite the premise, but by the end of the 10-episode season, the plot becomes so convoluted that it was hard to handle. And the twist in the last episode is perhaps the worst in TV history.
The Hunters take out the Nazis in a variety of brutal ways: gassing them, perforating their eardrums, drowning them, and other ways that shouldn’t be put on paper. They justify this violence by pointing to the atrocities the Nazis committed, and yet some of them struggle with “becoming the monsters they hunt.” By the end of the show, though, the general sense is that they totally accepted and tacitly embraced brutality, and the morality agonized over earlier is thrown out the window. There is no humanity in their enemies, so they must be destroyed in the most horrible ways possible.
Nazis are evil, but the show’s definitions of “Nazi” are loose. In one sketch, titled “How to Find a Nazi,” the Hunters list four signs that someone might be a Nazi, and “white people” makes up half the list. Of all the characters in the show who are good, not one is a white Gentile. Any white male character who seems to be good either is a coward or secretly aiding or abetting the Nazis. As women and people of color take the fight to the Nazis, white men do nothing, despite the fact that history tells a slightly different story.
While the show takes place in the 1970s, the writers couldn’t help but bring in the politics of today. A quick perusal of Weil’s social media makes it clear that he wants to depict “our current moment.” In a pivotal scene, an American neo-Nazi inspired by the German old guard begins a chant of “Jews Will Not Replace Us.” This invokes the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, Unite the Right chant, an event and movement that many falsely claim Trump endorsed. Contrary to what you might have seen in the media, Trump never called white nationalists or neo-Nazis “very fine people.”
The vilest aspect of the show was its blatant Holocaust revisionism, so bad that the Auschwitz Museum issued a statement criticizing the show. The show uses to-the-death human chess games and singing contests to depict the Nazis’ crimes at Auschwitz. As the Auschwitz Museum correctly states, these events never happened. Weil also intentionally gave prisoners at Auschwitz higher-numbered tattoos than were actually recorded. There are countless examples of evil and violence during the Holocaust that was perpetrated against millions of people, so there is no need to exaggerate. In attempting to depict in fiction the atrocities committed against Holocaust victims, Weil does those victims a disservice by turning their suffering into shock factor.
Hunters offers a twisted worldview in which brute force and abject torture are the only answers to evil. The story of Hunters is not one of triumph over evil and violence, but rather succumbing to it and perpetuating it. This is the sort of nihilism that people may have had enough of — it misrepresents human history, and the stories we should tell about it, all for cheap entertainment.