The film recounts how Israel’s national intelligence agency, the Mossad, ran a covert operation in Argentina in 1960 to capture Adolf Eichmann, an organizer of the Holocaust who’s referred to in the movie as the “architect of the Final Solution.”
Isaac told HuffPost the story is especially important to him because of today’s “sudden shift into extreme rhetoric centered around nationalism and anti-immigrant rhetoric and a lot of division and hatred being whipped up.”
“It’s easy to kind of think of the Nazis as just these monsters that came out of some abyss somewhere, and we fought them back, and now they’re gone. [That] they were these mindless psychopaths,” the Guatemalan-born American actor said. “But the truth is these were people that seemingly had consciences, had families that they loved, had jobs, seemingly loved their country and because of a demagogue were able to be led into extreme racial hatred. That’s an incredibly relevant thing that’s happening now.”
“This isn’t just a closed capsule of history,” Isaac added, “but something that could happen again, and I hope people draw those parallels.”
In a separate interview, director Chris Weitz agreed with Isaac, reflecting on the movie’s unfortunate relevance in America.
“To see Nazi flags on the streets of the U.S., to see torchlight processions ... I think we always like to imagine that we put the thing to bed, but, eventually, we haven’t,” Weitz said. “It’s unfortunately perennial. It pops up in one form or another. It’s not only just about Nazis and about anti-Semitism.”
“Yesterday’s anti-Semitism could be tomorrow’s anti-immigrant sentiment,” he added.
And not just in the U.S.
“I think we were often shocked by what was happening back home, but at the same time we were in a country, Argentina, which had actually gone through its own military dictatorship and had concentration camps of its own and mass murder of its own,” Weitz said. “So I think there was this sort of looming that it was déjà vu all over again.”
Isaac said seeing headlines about resurgent anti-Semitism and white supremacy protests in the U.S. gave the cast “focus” and was a reminder “to be aware that we have to stay vigilant.”
The actor believes his character, Peter Malkin, who was part of the real-life team that captured Eichmann, is an example of how to deal with hate.
“[Malkin] ended up relating to [Eichmann] not as an interrogator and a prisoner, but as two human beings. The most courageous and the smart thing strategically was to disarm him by opening up a dialogue, by actually talking to him one human being to another. And that’s just astonishing ― the amount of emotional restraint this man must’ve had when all he wanted to do was to kill him, choke him to death, beat this man to death that murdered millions of his people and directly his family,” he said. “He showed empathy and kindness to him, and it was through that that he was able to get Eichmann to willingly sign a confession and willingly go to Israel to stand trial.”
“I hope that people do see that and take that [in],” Isaac concluded. “How to deal with ‘evil’ and those that are truly guilty of horrible things ... the most effective way is not necessarily through equal amounts of hate, but through dialogue and understanding.”
“Operation Finale” heads to theaters Aug. 29.