Apt Pupil Outruns Mentor

DATELINE: Crypto Nazis in Suburbia

Bryan Singer, director of Apt Pupil,first ran into hot water, not because of the subject matter that indicated Nazi youth were living in American suburbs, but because he filmed teenage boys in the high school shower after gym class.

This 1998 film should not be forgotten for more important reasons.

High crimes differ in every culture. Singer’s point made Stephen King’s novella more horrific than the original story where the FBI could identify your garden variety mass killer with a profile. In this film version an All-American boy on a bicycle discovers the old man in his neighborhood is no innocent immigrant, but a fugitive Nazi killer from Auschwitz.

It was an era when immigrants were welcomed into the United States at the border, no matter how dubious their credentials. After all, safe haven is often de rigueur for evil-doers.

Instead of turning the reprobate into authorities, the kid wants to be tutored in the fine art of Nazi supremacy. It was a wild idea twenty years ago, but today with neo and crypto Nazi supporters all over the landscape, we might discover this budding monster wins some sympathy. How many shooters in recent years were teenagers with MAGA caps?

Performances make this essential two-character drama into something special. Ian McKellan plays an older Nazi and Brad Refro is the innocent-looking teen. The sophistication of Refro’s work makes his early death a far greater loss to acting. Each star is brilliant as we watch their subtle sexually charged father-son jamboree.

At one point, Refro as Todd buys a Nazi uniform for his pal to see him march around. McKellan dryly announces, “I see I have been promoted.”

The revelation that Refro’s youth may be worse than the Master comes at different points for some audience members. You could think that the kid is a victim of a powerful influence, but his treatment of his high school teacher Mr. French who discovers the ugly secret is far more stinging than the headlines of today’s child abuse cases.

Who can you trust in this world? Everyone uses a façade to shield their hideous criminal intentsions.

Up to the ending, McKellan’s Nazi thinks he can outsmart the American Nazi, but the freedom of choice in the United States makes for a far more dangerous brand of Fascism, as we now know from Trump’s campaign for a second term.

This is a chilling look at Nazis, homegrown and imported.