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Film / Hanussen

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Hanussen is a 1988 film from Hungary, directed by Istvan Szabo.

It's a biopic of Erik Jan Hanussen, who became famous as a clairvoyant in Weimar Germany. Hanussen (Klaus Maria Brandauer), born Klaus Schneider in Austria, is shot in the head while fighting on the Italian front in the last days of World War I. While going through rehab in an army hospital, he discovers that he has developed gifts for hypnotism and clairvoyancy. He starts an act, adopting the stage name of Erik Jan Hanussen and touring around central Europe giving shows. He soon becomes immensely popular with the European smart set. However, once the Nazi Party comes to power in January 1933, it views Hanussen as a threat.



  • Answer Cut: Hanussen is conducting a seance. He talks about the "new age" coming to Germany, and asks what the new age will bring. His wife says "order". Cut to a newsreel showing Adolf Hitler becoming chancellor of Germany.
  • Book Ends: Hanussen is saying the Lord's Prayer at the beginning when his World War I unit is about to go "over the top" of their trench and attack, and at the end when a Nazi is pointing a gun at him and he knows death is imminent.
  • Call-Forward: At the height of Germany's inflation panic of the 1920s Hanussen tells a group of bigwigs that there's a lot of hate out there, which, if "misused by a demagogue", could lead to disaster. It does, as Hitler takes over by the end of the movie.
  • Fanservice Extra
    • At one swanky nightclub that Hanussen attends, a buxom topless woman is manning a buffet table. There's also a naked man and woman strolling through the crowd, apparently for eye candy.
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    • Henni Stahl is taking photos of a bunch of nude men and women, who form a sort of tower like gymnasts.
  • Fortune Teller: Hanussen isn't a fake, no, he's a genuine clairvoyant. He informs his audience of a shipwreck that nobody knows about yet, he correctly predicts the price of cotton will take a dive, and most unfortunately for him, he predicts the Reichstag fire.
  • Headbutt of Love: A platonic example. Dr. Bettelheim, who is Jewish and is getting nervous about the Nazis, starts to panic when Hanussen gets mad about Hitler imitating him. Hanussen hugs him and gives him a Headbutt of Love to calm him down.
  • He Knows Too Much: The Nazis setting the Reichstag fire themselves is one of history's most popular conspiracy theories. In this movie the Nazis murder Hanussen because he predicts the fire in advance.
  • Hypno Fool: Hanussen the skilled hypnotist can do this to people. He makes an SA stormtrooper cluck like a chicken. (This same stormtrooper later murders him.) At another show he mind-controls a woman into setting fire to the curtains.
  • Kubrick Stare: The woman that Hanussen hypnotizes into setting the curtains on fire stares at the flames with a creepy Kubrick Stare, which she breaks when he snaps her out of trance.
  • Little People Are Surreal: In one show the act which proceeds Hanussen is a troupe of little people, in 18th century powder and wigs, singing an aria. They certainly look surreal as they dash past Hanussen.
  • Lovely Assistant: After Wally abandons a journalism career to marry Hanussen, she becomes the Lovely Assistant in his act.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title: Hanussen
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Hanussen meets "Henni Stahl", a photographer and filmmaker, who has ideas about propaganda, who is closely associated with the Nazis, and who also likes to take arty photos of buff naked people. In other words, Leni Riefenstahl of Triumph of the Will infamy.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Worn by an opera singer at a show for wounded soldiers, complete with a closeup on her breasts heaving up in the corset as the audience hoots and hollers.
  • Repressive, but Efficient: Or so thinks Hanussen's wife, when she alludes to the Nazis bringing "order".
  • Significant Birth Date: Hanussen's birthday is April 20, same as Adolf Hitler, whose rise Hanussen predicts.
  • Spooky Séance: Two. When Hanussen's medium friend holds a seance complete with crystal ball, he simply refuses to participate. However later he holds his own seance, in which he predicts the coming of a "new age"—fascism.
  • Stage Name: Hanussen's manager gets him to take the name "Erik Jon Hanussen" because Klaus Schneider is too common a name.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: How Hanussen discovers his gift. A soldier in the same hospital ward pulls out a grenade when he isn't allowed to see the emperor. Hanussen disarms him by essentially putting him in a light trance.
  • Talking in Bed: Towards the end of the movie Hanussen and Wally have a conversation in bed where she accuses him of thinking only about himself and not really loving her, and he admits she's basically right.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: For starters, there's the film depicting Hanussen as a genuine psychic. The movie also changes his true name, which was actually "Hermann Steinschneider". That change from a Jewish-sounding name goes along with another big change, namely not mentioning Hanussen's being a Jew. In the movie Hanussen is urging his old doctor, Dr. Bettelheim, to flee the Nazis, but does not mention himself. The film also gives Hanussen the same birthday as Hitler (April 20) when Hanussen's birthday was June 2, and it does not mention a wife early in Hanussen's career who bore him a daughter.