Downfall (Der Untergang) (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
This film has established quite a reputation for one
which has not been widely seen outside of Germany. It is a historical recreation of the
last days of Hitler inside the bunker, as based on the recollections
of some people who were actually there, especially Hitler's
secretary, Traudl Junge, who wrote a book on the subject. It was
notorious even before filming began, primarily because it was the
first major international film project made in Germany to deal
primarily with Hitler. Up
until this point, the Germans have been relying on their former
enemies to tell their story. The film's notoriety was magnified by a
treatment that showed some of the Nazis to be sympathetic or
honorable, and showed Hitler to have moments of kindness for Eva,
Speer, his secretary, the Goebbels children, and his dog.
Frankly, I don't know why anyone found that to be objectionable. Life would be much simpler if the villains would always clearly appear to be villains, so we could know to avoid them. What makes the process of politics scary is that evil comes packaged in a way that is not substantially different from good, and that all of us can find ourselves deluded into following monsters. The obviously deranged crackpot like Kim Jong-Il is the exception, not the rule, and I suppose even Kim has admirers who find him to be a lovely guy. If Hitler had always appeared to be a ranting lunatic, he would not have inspired a nation to follow him. He obviously had to have some kind of charisma, both in interpersonal relationships and in his public speeches, even if we would prefer to think of him as a scheming, evil, simpleton.
The film does make Hitler into a pathetic character. He consults his battle plans and moves imaginary armies into position. His advisors and generals humor him, or kowtow sycophantically, often sneering behind his back. The script does not, however, make the leap from pathetic to sympathetic or empathetic and even if it can be interpreted to have done so, one must concede that it was done in an attempt to tell the true story about real people. A serious treatment can't portray the Nazis as they were shown in the Warner Brothers cartoons of the 40s. Although we might like to think that Hitler was a member of a separate species which resembles humans except for the extra evil genes, the sad fact of the matter is that although he was a monster, he was also one of us. The act of demonstrating that monsters grow inside of us is probably reason enough to have made the film.
The two most powerful and famous men in Germany at the time were Hitler and Goebbels, and the two actors who played these parts were absolutely uncanny. Bruno Ganz managed to become Hitler in every way, from the shaking hand, down to that rough-hewn Austrian accent. As for the other guy, I don't think they hired an actor. I think that guy WAS Goebbels come back to life. He sounded exactly like him, voice and accent, and he even looked exactly like him, same rat face and all, except that he was several inches too tall.
The film is not historically reliable in that it relies on the perspective of a few people who viewed people and events in a limited context. The story is not based upon the work of a scholarly historian who is trying carefully to sift through conflicting evidence and present all the nuances, but rather on subjective observations, like those of Hitler's secretary. Some of the people she finds sympathetic and honorable are not generally thought of in those terms. Here is the overview of an expert, David Irving, whose comprehensive analysis of the film's characters and events is written in such a concise and down-to-earth manner that it should make an interesting and intelligible read even if you have not seen the film.
Der Untergang is a great movie, one of the best of 2004, but I don't think you need me to tell you that. It has won a bushel basket full of awards, is rated an impressive 8.5 at IMDb (#77 of all time), and provides further evidence of a resurgent German film industry that is starting to turn out world class movies of many different types: from Tom Twkver's hip films; to gentle, sympathetic comedies like Good-bye, Lenin; to serious historical dramas like this film. If you have any interest in World War Two, or Hitler's final days, this is mandatory viewing. I found it completely fascinating, and got absorbed in every detail, even though the film is 2:35 long.
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