«The most skillful politicians have always mastered hypnotic methods,» it’s said in Finnish documentary The Hypnotist, screening in the online edition of DocsBarcelona. Fascist dictator Adolf Hitler’s powers of oratory in mesmerising the masses and his links to celebrity hypnotist and stagecraft master Eric Jan Hanussen have long been a subject of attention — and controversy, for could it not be a side-stepping of responsibility to claim a kind of spell over-rode a nation’s free will? Director Arthur Franck explores the terrain of politics, showmanship, and mind control through the strange, lesser-known story of Olavi Hakasalo (or Olliver Hawk, as he preferred to call himself). This Finnish hypnotist, who carried his knack for dark pomp and dramatic timing to the end as he died on stage in the middle of a show, had shady links to Urho Kekkinen, who ruled Finland for a quarter of a century from 1956 with what many would call an autocratic hand. The film makes the claim that Kekkonen secretly hired Hakasalo to conduct research and advise the government on mass hypnosis and suggestion for political purposes, and in particular to offer methods by which popular rival Veikko Vennamo and his Finnish Rural Party could be sabotaged and silenced.
Hakasalo’s biography is set out, painting a picture of an eccentric, somewhat narcissistic figure whose interest in occult subjects infused all aspects of his life off-stage as well as on. His mother was a clairvoyant, and by the age of nine, in 1939, he had already begun studying hypnosis, along with his associated interests of telepathy, witchcraft, and the supernatural. The notion that all the power that exists in the world is bound by words impressed him deeply — an idea that points to language’s association not only with indoctrination through reason, but also with the more mystical domains of religion and magic (the film names Jesus, in his mixing of persuasive speeches and miracles, as the first great hypnotist). To what degree do people choose to follow a leader? Can they really be manipulated to do anything, regardless of their own free will, simply by the inflection of a voice, a snap of the fingers, or the magnetism of a gaze? The unsettling prospect that one’s …
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