A nation awaits its . . .
Downfall (Der Untergang) released in 2004 and brilliantly directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, vividly recounts the last days of Hitler’s Nazi Germany in Berlin. This has been filmed numerous times before but none have come remotely close to matching this films depiction of the utter collapse and moral bankruptcy of not only Hitler and the Nazis but also the country as a whole.
The film starts with Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge recounting her first meeting with Hitler in November 1942 as she and other women are being interviewed by Hitler who comes across as a caring and polite man.
We then fast forward to April 20th, 1945 as the senior Nazis come to Berlin to make their respects to Hitler on his 56th birthday, and in addition to their sycophantic conversations with their Fuhrer they are also mostly all plotting their escapes from Berlin.
Hitler is played by the late Bruno Ganz, a very versatile German actor, but here he gives the performance of a lifetime. He doesn’t humanise Hitler but he does show he is human. A very hard balancing act which he pulls off brilliantly. Too many portrayals of Hitler tend to be second-rate ranting caricatures, but Ganz, and the film, also shows sides of him that depicts how he seduced an entire nation into the abyss.
According to screenwriter Bernd Eichinger, the film’s overlying idea was to make a movie about Hitler and wartime Germany that was very close to historical truth, as part of a theme that would allow the German nation to save their own history and “experience their own trauma”. To accomplish this, the film explores Hitler’s decisions and motives during his final days through the perspective of the individuals who lived in the Fuhrerbunker during those times. Eichinger deliberately chose not to include mention of the Holocaust because it was not the topic of the film.
The films also has one of the internet sensations in that tens of thousands parodies were made of the following clip where Hitler becomes angry after hearing that Steiner’s attack never happened – the subtitles are changed to reflect the comic interpretation. I even did one for a presentation at a conference on a project I was working on at a previous job. However, this scene is a chilling insight into the abhorrent nature of the man who blames everyone else for the catastrophe he has brought upon Germany and its people.
But unlike many other movie depictions of the final days of The Third Reich we also get to see the chaos of the fall of Berlin, largely through the eyes of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Dr. Ernest-Gunther Schenck, outstandingly portrayed by Christian Berkel. Whilst Hitler was living out his fantasies of imagined armies in his Fuhrerbunker, the citizens of Berlin were scrambling for any type of peace and survival amidst the carnage.
The film contains, IMO, one of the most distressing scenes in cinema history, as it painstakingly recreates Magda Goebbels poisoning her six children with cyanide in the Fuhrerbunker. This scene is utterly appalling in showing the woman’s callous evilness.
Also the film was the subject of dispute by critics and audiences in Germany before and after its release, with many expressing concern in regards to Hitler’s portrayal in the film as a human being with emotions in spite of his actions and ideologies. Screenwriter Eichinger replied to these responses from the film by stating that “the terrifying thing” about Hitler was that he was human and “not an elephant or a monster from Mars”. I believer Eichinger was absolutely spot-on in his response.
Downfall is no easy watch but it is an absolutely absorbing and riveting piece of cinema. In fact I rate it as one of the few truly great films of the 21st century and it sits amongst my top 50 favourite films of all-time.
and the tease for next weeks post . . . All About Me !
23 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #58”
Agree – it is a brilliant film. Needs to be compared with The Bunker (1981) starring Anthony Hopkins.
It is a brilliant movie. Almost a fly on the wall view.
It would have had an interesting response from Germans. I had a young German guy at work with my team on a night shift and we watched some doco on WW2 in Europe. He was visibly embarrassed until I reassured him that it wasn’t his fault and it is a lesson and reminder for all of us about what we are capable of in the right circumstances.
PS. The credits at the end were interesting as they gave an update on what happened to all the real-life characters.
Agreed, Hopkins’ portrayal of that genocidal maniac is also top drawer. The first time I saw it, back when I was about 17, a mate remarked in a rather surprised tone at the end, “that film actually portrayed him as a human being”.
Nonetheless, Downfall is a fantastic film with so many great actors. Of particular note, simply because he looks so damn chilling, is the portrayal of the hatchet faced universal soldier SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke by André Hennicke – and of course no film about various German WW2 military debacles would be complete without Thomas Kretschmann – portraying the ill fated brother in law of Eva Braun, SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein.
Also noted about Ganz’ portrayal of the genocidal maniac was the accent he used. A mate of mine who lived in Munich* for eight years and spoke fluent German claimed that Ganz (when he wasn’t shouting) spoke in a classic refined German accent, which may not have been entirely accurate, given the genocidal maniac’s Austrian background.
*Or “München”, for all those pretentious plastic türkiyes in the braindead lamestream meeja.
Agreed re Hopkins performance was one of the few really good performances of Hitler – my only quibble was that his make-up didn’t really make him really look like Hitler as he was in his last few days; whereas Bruni Ganz’s look is of a very old 56-year-old man suffering from Parkinsons etc.
Also the rest of the film of The Bunker pales compares to Downfall.
I only really become aware of Ganz’ ability when I saw Unknown. Very, very good. Downfall seemed to pass me by, probably because the early noughties had me running around like a chook with its head cut off.
On the tease, I’m thinking a little less watch the German cuckoo and a little more watch the Birdie. 😀
You definitely need to watch it calli – as I said I reckon it’s one of the few great films of the 21st century.
You’ve lost me re you tease of the tease . . .
Wolfman saw Downfall when it was originally released in Cinema in Sony Centre Potsdamer Platz in Berlin in 2004 with English Subtitles
I note that The cinemas in the center were closed at the end of 2019.
Have since purchased Downfall DVD
A Great Movie
Much better than “Hitler the last 10 days”.
The words were classic German, but I heard a lot of the “sing song” Austrian accent, the more nasal vowels and rolling rs.
If you want to hear what he sounded like in everyday conversation rather than his set piece speeches, look on YouTube for “Hitler’s normal voice”.
Sorry. It’s very cryptic.
I’ll explain myself next week and if I’m wrong it’s the Naughty Corner. 😀
As a resident of AfDanistan, I’m waiting for Downfall’s eagerly awaited sequal.
Yes, a fantastic movie that draws the viewer in. I purchased the DVD and have watched it several times.
The film contains, IMO, one of the most distressing scenes in cinema history, as it painstakingly recreates Magda Goebbels poisoning her six children with cyanide in the Fuhrerbunker. This scene is utterly appalling in showing the woman’s callous evilness. Yes, even though I’ve watched the movie multiple times I am ‘unsettled’ each time by see this scene. I understand it’s just a movie portrayal but I hope the evil bitch went straight to Hell.
Bruno Ganz has left quite a mark on German cinema.
In 1987, he starred in a Wim Wenders film called “Wings of Desire” (Der Himmel uber Berlin).
Also featuring Peter Falk, Otto Sander and the magnificently-assembled Solveig Dommartin, who also learned the trapeze and acrobatics for her role in the film
And Nick Cave (and the Bad Seeds) get a musical performance on screen, just for good measure.
A fine film.
One of the worst scenes for me was the one armed father (and veteran) being hanged by the field police when his son deserts.
The knowledge the bloke who did that would have shucked off those uniforms and pretended they were ‘just police” a few days later.
Please send a copy to Zelenski – it will be most informative . As for the Germans , they just don’t learn.
I have the DVD unopened at home for quite a number of years. I watched part of it on television one night. It was so visceral and distressing I was horrified. Bruno Ganz was a great actor but I find the older I get, the harder it is to watch movie like this.
I identify myself as a craut – so any movie where the crauts loose I don’t watch it.
Saw preview clips on tv of the final days in the bunker. Beautiful women speaking German to these beautiful blonde, chubby cheeked children asking them to swallow a cyanide pill. Couldn’t watch it – walked out the room.
Another great review of a great movie. Thanks Wolfie.
Ganz was excellent; another worth watching for him is Wenders’ Der Himmel uber Berlin/Wings of Desire
Agreed Pyrometer . . . Wings Of Desire is a lovely fantasy drama, which better than the OK US remake City Of Angels.
Apparently the scene in which a child in the next room responds to the sound of Adolf Hitler shooting himself by jokingly making a sound like “kapow” (it’s been a while since I saw the film) is historically based.
The scene in which Frau Goebbels kills her children is almost too much even to write about; what adds to the horror is her motivation, that a world without Nazism – which she realises is about to come – isn’t fit to bring up children in.
Not unlike the more extreme climate hysterics sadly. Paganism in its various shades.