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Film / Swing Kids

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"You think that just because you're not doing it yourself, you're not a part of it? Well, I'm sick and tired of doing my part."

Swing Kids is a 1993 American period drama film directed by Thomas Carter, starring Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale, Frank Whaley, Barbara Hershey, and Kenneth Branagh.

The setting is 1938 Hamburg in Nazi Germany. Most kids and teenagers are part of the Hitler Jugend. Some of those who aren't are "swing kids". Swing kids love British fashion, American dances, and most of all, swing music.

Peter Müller (Leonard) is a swing kid with a passion for it. He and his friends, Thomas (Bale) and Arvid (Whaley), try to avoid Nazism and H.J., but after Peter is caught stealing a radio he is forced to join. Thomas joins with him for moral support, but Arvid won't hear of it and stays true to his resolve. While at first Peter and Thomas live by the motto that they're "HJ by day, Swing Kids by night," they slowly begin to get brainwashed, and they're forced to question everything they have and do believe, and must ultimately decide where their loyalties lie.

This film was a major part of the swing revival fad of the 1990s.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Herr Knopp is rather charismatic and pressures Peter into joining the H.J.
    • He doesn't exactly "persuade" him per se. Once Peter gets caught stealing the radio, it's that or go to a work camp.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Subverted as several of the kids are German and denounce the ideals behind Hitler and the Nazi Regime.
  • Arc Words: "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got the swing..."
  • Becoming the Mask: Thomas does this after joining the H.J. to offer Peter moral support, citing Peter would do the same for him. As the movie progresses, it is clear that Thomas is starting to be effectively brainwashed by the propoganda.
  • Central Theme: How far can one go when standing up for what's right?
  • Downer Ending: Arvid has committed suicide. Peter will likely die in a camp after being arrested (if he's lucky). Thomas seemed to acknowledge Peter but may fall back to being influenced by Nazi propoganda. Willi's had his father die when he was young and now his brother gets taken from him in front of his eyes (nevermind the effect on his mother).
  • Driven to Suicide: Arvid kills himself by slitting his wrists with a broken record in a bathtub, a reference back to the scene when he got beat up, rather than passively partake in the murders the Nazis are commiting.
  • Fingore: A group of H.J. members beat up Arvid with Emil purposefully crushing Arvid's fingers, knowing his love for playing the guitar.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Peter makes the dinner his superior has with his mother backfire when he points out all the products that lie on the table: French wine, Swiss chocolate, Polish sausages, and American music. All things that have been strictly banned by the Nazis. Peter also lays into Herr Knopp verbally pointing all of this out as well, much to his mother's dismay.
  • Parental Abandonment: Peter's father was killed by the Nazis, presumably for speaking out against their policies, when Peter was just 9 years old and Willi was 3. Peter, as a result, is torn whether his father was a good man or not.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Arvid delivers one at the night club when a Luftewaffe airman requests him a song shortly before he kills himself:
    Arvid: What is wrong with you people? We are murdering Austrians. Next it'll be the Czechs, then the Poles, not to mention the gypsies and the Jews...And now you want to hear a song. You want someone to lift your morale, well I WON'T!
  • We Used to Be Friends: Emil is cited as the "first Swing Kid," and Arvid, Peter, and Thomas are in disbelief that he has joined the Hitler-Jugend. Thomas later fills this role with Arvid and Peter.
  • What Have I Become?: Thomas gets this when he stops himself mid-sentence as he threatens Peter to be denounced to the authorities just as he tries to prove being a Nazi is not that bad.
  • What Have I Done: Peter delivers a box to a lady who asks about her husband and later screams off-screen. Peter has one package left and decides to open it. There are ashes inside with a tag of "Traitor" on the inside of the box lid. He essentially delivered the remains of her husband to a young lady and in the box he has he finds a ring inside among the ashes.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Nothing is ever mentioned of Evey, Peter's love interest, at the end of the film and it remains uncertain if she even knew what had occurred.