If any Horse Gelder film were to win an Oscar for Best Picture, it would be this one.
Berlin, 1941: The Baron von Strassenhof, a decorated military officer in the German Army, is an avid horse enthusiast with his own stock farm just outside of Berlin. Though not a member of Hitler’s inner circle, he is well-respected by the Fuhrer for his prized horses. However he has a secret of his own. You see, his friend from childhood, Isaac Gelderman, is Jewish. Ever since the Nazis came to power, there had been a certain anti-semitic sentiment fanned by the likes of Goebbels and Himmler, and Isaac found his position as one of the best doctors in Berlin threatened. Though Isaac was relatively safe as he served Germany in the Great War as a medical officer, there were increasing rumors every day about Jews being put out of business and even worse happenings, culminating in Kristallnacht in 1938. When the reality of Hitler’s diabolical Final Solution came crashing down upon him, it was too late to flee Germany, and Isaac was trapped in Berlin.
Isaac and the Baron von Strassenhof had been friends since they were little and even served in the trenches together, both saving the other one’s life on many occasions. They were inseparable, almost like brothers, which is why Isaac was able to remain safe for so long even years into Hitler’s rule. No one possibly suspected that the Baron, an upstanding model Aryan, could have a Jewish friend. However, in the months following up to Germany’s invasion of Poland, the SS suddenly became suspicious of Isaac Gelderman’s heritage, and soon it became clear that Isaac was, not Aryan.
In a desperate attempt to save Isaac, the Baron has faked Isaac’s death by claiming to have personally executed him (thus elevating his stature in the Nazi Party) and allowed Isaac to seek refuge in his own estate under an alias. Indeed, the Baron has the most ingenious plan to conceal Isaac’s whereabouts. Given Isaac’s medical expertise, he has become personal veterinarian of the Baron’s stables, hiding in plain sight as Jan Gelder.
The movie starts off with some text about Nazi Germany and the Nuremburg Laws and how they made life living hell for Jews living in Germany, as should any decent movie about the Holocaust. The first scene may be various depictions of life for German Jews circa 1936, with all sorts of depressing music. The next scene, however, in stark contrast to this rather grim opening, is of a club, where Isaac is enjoying a night out with the ladies, being a fancy doctor and all that, with the Baron dropping by and chatting about the current state of affairs, which Isaac is not too worried about, since no one really thinks he’s Jewish. It is also evident that Isaac doesn’t really care for the Baron’s horse hobby, having never been to the stables. Then we are shown Isaac working at a hospital, since he’s a doctor, and various not-so-subtle hints about anti-semitic measures are dropped around, with a person with a Star of David armband being turned away from the hospital and such. But he doesn’t really care. None of his business. Intertwined with this sequence is a set of scenes with the Baron, who is well-known in Berlin’s high society for his quality horses. He is promoted to major, and maybe there is even a scene with Hitler and Goebbels and Himmler, with Hitler complimenting him for devoting his life to Germany despite his aristocratic background. Perhaps the Baron will invite Hitler to a horse party? Who knows.
Fast forward to November 9, 1938. Isaac is walking back home when a store window in front of him shatters, and he is faced with angry mobs crying for Jewish blood. Not his, but others. The viewer is then treated to some graphic scenes depicting Kristallnacht. The movie shall be banned from Germany for this reason. Although Isaac is not directly involved in the events of the night, he is visibly disturbed by the wanton destruction. Their situation stands in stark contrast to his own, which seems unfairly privileged. He decides to help out a badly wounded person, but the youths (possibly including some people he knows at the hospital) try to stop him but he prevails. Unfortunately this proves to be his undoing, as an SS officer witnesses this particular act of compassion.
A few days later, the Baron is at his desk at military HQ, when he is visited by an SS officer who hints at suspicions of Isaac not of Aryan descent, and implies consequences if the Baron is found to be fraternizing with such elements. The Baron immediately goes to the hospital and takes Isaac away, and drives to the outskirts of Berlin not very far from his estate. The Baron berates Isaac for his carelessness, and it seems that there is no hope for escape for Isaac, since the authorities will be looking for him. Isaac is crushed by this revelation, and begs the Baron to kill him, rather than let him be taken by the Gestapo. The Baron seems to oblige, pointing a pistol at Isaac.
The next scene shows the Baron returning to his office with a little bit of blood on his shirt. The SS officer has returned, due to the fact that the Baron was seen taking Isaac from the hospital. The Baron nonchalantly says that he was simply going to take care of a minor nuisance, and the SS officer understands this and compliments the Baron, who seems troubled. Flashback to previous scene, where it is shown that instead, Isaac was instructed to wait at the Baron’s home for further plans, making sure not to be seen by anyone. Then the Baron gets blood from somewhere and splashes it on his clothes, then drives back. Later that day, the Baron returns home with a new set of identification papers as a convincing Jan Gelder, veterinarian from Dusseldorf. He’s a veterinarian because new certificates are easier to obtain. I just made that last part up. But he’s in charge of gelding the horses, he is “das Horse Gelder”, if you will. Unpleasant work, but it’s better than death, ja?
Anyway, the second part of the movie is basically scenes of him working in the stables (which is safe since no one there has ever met him), with scenes of the Baron’s high society life shown intermittently. Perhaps a couple of close call situations will arise where people become suspicious of his identity, but he manages to solve them somehow. I haven’t figured out the details, but I would like to include a tense situation when Hitler visits the stables and Isaac is coming out of the stables after a gelding operation and meets the Fuhrer. Hitler has a conversation with Isaac, complimenting him on his work, and claiming that Isaac’s duty is much like Hitler’s very own, maintaining purity so that only the strongest survive. Isaac, paralyzed in fear and awe, is unable to do or say anything, but Hitler pats him on the shoulder and enters the stables. Aside from that, there’s an increasing degree of hardship associated with the fact that there is some war going on in Europe.
I don’t know how the movie will end, whether Isaac will be able to flee Berlin when the Russians arrive while the Baron is captured as a POW and never heard from again, or if they manage to surrender to Allied forces together, or if the SS find out and execute them. Personally, I think that the Baron and Isaac should defect to the West, emigrate to the US, and start a ranch in the American West. That can tie in nicely with the other Horse Gelder stories.
Daniel Craig as the Baron von Strassenhof, because I have seen Daniel Craig play a Jewish character in Munich and in Defiance, and I really think he would fit much better as a German (I don’t see him as a very Jewish character). He has the steely blue eyes and blond hair that I would presume would be prominent features of the Baron. Either him or the German officer at the end of The Pianist. I think he was also in Valkyrie, but I’m not sure. Someone who can seem powerful and sensitive at the same time.
Christian Bale as Isaac Gelderman AKA Jan Gelder AKA The Horse Gelder, because if Daniel Craig can play a Jewish role twice, Christian Bale can do it at least once, because HE IS PROFESSIONAL. Okay, I blanked out on ideas for who could play Isaac. Christian Bale is my fallback on casting block, because Heath Ledger’s dead. Heath Ledger would have made a terrific Horse Gelder. But now I guess it’s Christian Bale. Meh. Actually, never mind. Eric Bana would be a delightful Horse Gelder.