Germany's Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader Meinhof Group, was formed in the late 1960s in response to such issues as domestic repression, epitomized by a brutal police response to a demonstration against the Shah of Iran, and the presence of U.S. military bases in Germany during the Vietnam war era. There was also a sense that the newer generation was not going to allow the rise of fascism again, as those in power once did.
"The Baader Meinhof Complex," a film based on a book by investigative reporter Stefan Aust, shows that the group became at least as monstrous as any injustice they were fighting. They attempted to bomb, shoot and kidnap their way to a new social order, the nature of which remained hazy beyond the revolutionary rhetoric. The rhetoric itself revealed a contempt toward democracy, viewed as a veil hiding the oppressive nature of capitalism and imperialism.
The main characters are Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), dictatorial, misogynistic and maybe even psychopathic, made all the more dangerous by his charisma; his companion, cold-blooded Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), daughter of a clergyman; and Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), ready to put aside her journalistic career and even her children to take part in the group's terror operations.
At one point, the group is recklessly speeding in two cars along a highway, rock music blaring, shooting up signs. That incident, along with Ensslin's statement that "screwing and shooting are the same," revealed them as extended adolescents beneath the revolutionary image. Ultimately, groups such as the Red Army Faction and the Weather Underground in America not only fail to achieve their ends; they also tarnish the entire left (which is not to say that the right doesn't have their fanatical fringe) and help elect reactionary leaders.
"The Baader Meinhof Complex" is a powerful and riveting film that delivers two warnings: first, Horst Herold (Bruno Ganz), while tenaciously fighting the terrorists as head of the Federal German police, states repeatedly that we ought to understand and address their motives–a view often misconstrued as "justifying terror." Second, in seeking change, we should, as Mahatma Gandhi stated, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."