"One of 2004's best films, DOWNFALL (DER UNTERGANG), recreates the last days of Adolph Hitler and his sycophants in the Führer's bunker below the Reich Chancellery as the noose drawn by vengeful Soviet armies gets ever tighter.
The film actually opens in 1942 at Hitler's East Prussia command post as Adolph (Bruno Ganz) meets several young woman brought from Berlin to be interviewed for a job as his personal secretary. Young Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) lands the plum assignment, and it's mostly from her perspective that the remainder of the story is told as the scene shifts to Berlin in April 1945.
DOWNFALL is based on Joachim Fest's book, Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich, and the volume BIS ZUR LETZTEN STUNDE by Traudl Junge and Melissa Müller. Indeed, the real Junge, by then an old woman, provides voiceovers both at the beginning and end of the film, and appears in person before the final credits. (The 2002 documentary, Blind Spot - Hitler's Secretary, is an extended interview with Traudl, in which she expresses "plausible deniability" for the atrocities perpetuated by her employer.)
All of the major and minor players familiar to students of the period are represented: Joseph and Magda Goebbels and their offspring, Eva Braun, Speer, Fegelein, Weidling, Mohnke, Himmler, Krebs, Burgdorf, Keitel, Jodl, Günsche, Bormann, Göring, Hewel, Ritter von Greim, Reitsch, Stumpfegger, Kempa, Manziarly, Christian, Haase, Schenck, Linge, and Blondi (Hitler's German shepherd). DOWNFALL seems a faithful representation of all I've ever read about those last days in Hitler's hidey-hole.
DOWNFALL has been coined a "German film for Germans", perhaps thinking that the despicability of the Nazi hierarchy will somehow be toned down for a home audience. True, the film's creators show heroism and selflessness where they can find it: the dogged and brave defense of Berlin's city center by Generals Mohnke (André Hennicke) and Weidling (Michael Mendl), the concern for the civilian population and wounded by Doctors Schenck (Christian Berkel) and Haase (Mathias Habich), and even the bravery of Speer (Heino Ferch) in disobeying Hitler's orders to reduce Germany's infrastructure to scorched earth. But DOWNFALL also depicts Der Führer's antipathy for the Jews and his volcanic, recriminatory outbursts against his generals and the German people for their ostensible treachery and cowardice, the self-serving conniving of Himmler (Ulrich Noethen), the actions of the assassination squads above ground seeking out perceived malingerers and deserters, the to-the-death fanaticism of defenders no more than children, and the blind and irrational loyalty of Joseph (Ulrich Matthes) and Magda (Corinna Harfouch) Goebbels to Hitler. Indeed, perhaps the hardest sequence to watch is that of Magda killing her own children - Helga, Hilde, Helmut, Hedda, Holde - with cyanide capsules after first drugging them with a sleeping potion. She'd decided that they didn't deserve to live in a world devoid of National Socialism. At one point, the oldest girl, Helga, sensing something is amiss with her mother's intentions, resists taking the soporific, but is forced to submit by Magda and Dr. Stumpfegger (Thorsten Krohn). The Goebbels children, along with Hitler's dog Blondi, who was poisoned by his master to test the effects of the cyanide capsules provided by Himmler, are the only innocents here, and the viewer's heart may well bleed for them.
The performance by Bruno Ganz was of Oscar caliber. He was certainly more deserving of a nomination than a couple of the actors so honored at the recent Academy Awards ceremony. However, can you imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Politically Correct had Bruno's ADOLPH HITLER been acclaimed for the brilliant rendition it is?
For those who'd criticize DOWNFALL as humanizing Hitler and his cronies, I have a breaking news flash. Hello!?! These men and women were defective, but still Homo sapiens all. Those who'd put these deviants beyond the pale of the species are just as deluded as those who'd deny that the Holocaust ever took place, and they may just as well put their heads back under the sand. It's a tired adage, but, forget history and you'll repeat it.
My only complaint was that many of the characters, unless introduced to the audience by having their names verbalized in the dialogue, are left too long unidentified. There should have been visual captions at the first appearance of each. Himmler, Goebbels, and perhaps Speer, are immediately recognizable, but it took too long into the run time to identify such as Bormann, Günsche, Weidling, Krebs, Burgdorf, Keitel, and Jodl.
DOWNFALL is a must-see film for anybody interested in the death throes of Hitler's Reich. It was nominated for an Academy Award as the Best Foreign Language Film of 2004. It lost out to THE SEA INSIDE, a lesser movie. The fact that the latter was itself exceptional should be an indication of how superb a production DOWNFALL is."
Hitler as Human Being--Always Controversial
Dr Victor S Alpher | Austin, Texas, U.S.A. | 03/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this film in Germany in November, 2004, and picked up a copy in Berlin this March...my pre-ordered Amazon.de copy was waiting for me on my return.
This film is essential for anyone who wishes to understand "the evil that men do" (and women, for example, Frau Goebbels, who killed her children because she did not want them to grow up in a world without National Socialism, Nazism). It is a deep film, based on the historical novel of Joachim Fest, and the stunning documentary "Blind Spot" (Bis Zum Toten Winkel) revealing the thoughts of Hitler's personal secretary, Traudl Humps (married to an SS officer on Hitler's staff who was killed in 1943, she became Traudl Jung), shortly before her death as the millenium turned.
The acting is superb. The best new crop of German actors, as well as Bruno Ganz portraying Der Führer himself, are excellent. Most of the elements that led to the coming of the Holocaust, the Third Reich, and its downfall are cleverly intertwined in this phenomenally staged docudrama. In several viewings, I could find virtually nothing to criticize, down to the china used in the bunker, or so-called Führerbunker, to the attitudes of the many Field Marshalls, who were in many ways as "apolitical" as General Tommy Franks, attitudes of resignation, as suicide as the last honorable gesture, of "doing the right thing."
Such films have to be seen in context. After 60 years of banishment of the swastika (Hakenkreuz in German) in Germany, we see the swastika in its full "glory" throughout the film, the beautiful and attractive uniforms originally designed by Hugo Boss (no kidding). In context, in 2004, Germans were suddenly faced with an extremely well-made film that shows Hitler as nearly human (hiding is Parkinsonian tremor of his left hand behind his back as he presents the Iron Cross, 2nd Class, to Hitler Youth defending Berlin after the declaration of "Clausewitz"--Berlin as a war front. While other officers plead for the evacuation of women and children, Hitler responds that the German people (das Volk) do not deserve to survive, because they have lost this war. National Socialism is revealed as the death culture it was. In other contexts, there are excellend books, articles, and documentaries revealing how willing the German Volk were to turn over all thought, conscience, morality, to the Führer, who encouraged them to do so. Unfortunately, the next 60 years would show that the attitudes of National Socialism did not die with him.
I could individually commend the performances of the many players and people behind the scenes. I have been to Berlin, and this IS Berlin, to any approximation I have seen in photos of the time, and I have been in the last remaining Air Raid shelter (bunker) for the populace and it is no different from this soundstage, save the furniture that was probably taken from Jews years before by the party, which ended up as furnishings in the many homes of the high command and Hitler.
After viewing the film, I do recommend that the viewer take in "Schindler's List" or "The Pianist" to complement it. As we are faced with worldwide conflagration against a non-uniformed enemy of Western culture and democracy, it is hard to think of World War Two as the last of the "civilized" wars, even though it was perhaps the last of uniformed armies facing one another (the Cold War, which never went hot, excluded).
This film does show, through the characters of Traudl Junge and her young friend, the Hitler Youth decorated by Hitler personally, as they walk through the Soviet line on their way back to Bavaria, that the policy of war as a solution to any international dispute is at best fragile. Perhaps that fragility is our best hope for peace."
"Your Little Throats Are Being Cut"
R. W. Rasband | Heber City, UT | 05/11/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Downfall" is one of the most astonishing movies I have seen this year. I am a little baffled that it hasn't received more attention in the United States. Bruno Ganz should have gotten an Oscar nomination for best actor. But it did get a nomination for best foreign film. "Downfall" is easily as good and gripping as the renowned hit "Das Boot". It's probably the case that foreign movies don't get as much attention now as they did in the 1980's. Nevertheless, this fine film should have a long life on DVD.
"Downfall" has caused some controversy because it depicts Adolf Hitler not as a demon, but as a human being who was kind to his young secretaries and his dogs. In fact this makes his evil all the more insidious and monstrous. "Downfall" can be seen as an attempt by Germans to come to terms with their part in Hitler's crimes. How could a not-entirely-bad man like Albert Speer or an innocent like Traudl Junge retain their loyalty and admiration for such a diseased figure? We see the terrible events of April 1945 through German eyes. This involves acknowledging the horrible suffering of the German people as they were bombed and smashed into surrender. (Definitely, however, without letting them off the hook for their moral responsibility for the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity.)
We see Berlin turned into an apocalyptic landscape that would not seem out of place in the Book of Revelation. Gangs of murdering Nazis roam the rubble, looking for final victims to lynch. The Volkssturm, the army of old men and little boys recruited for the last defense of the city, is slaughtered by the advancing Russians. Officials of the regime are committing suicide right and left. (Some historians say there were more suicides among the Germans during the end than among the Japanese.) Down in the fuehrer's bunker Hitler's young secretary Traudl Junge (the wide-eyed, pretty, sweet Alexandra Maria Lara) witnesses the death throes of the Reich. Bruno Ganz is amazing as Hitler. The warm, human angel of "Wings of Desire" is entirely gone, replaced by this occasionally lucid, frequently rabid being. For long stretches of the movie, I swear, I entirely forgot there was an actor working up on the screen and it seemed as if I was watching Hitler himself in all his malignancy.
The movie turns the screws of suspense as things get worse and worse, and you get a solemn sense of justice being done at last. (Although there are still crimes that can be committed, like the diabolical murder of Goebbels' small children by their mother, shown in graphic detail.) The key to the movie perhaps can be had in a little speech by Goebbels. An army General protests the wanton slaughter of civilians and the Volkssturm. Goebbels replies, "I have no sympathy. No sympathy! The German people gave us the mandate. And now you cry because your little throats are being cut." It's a chilling moment. And a sobering reminder that politicians must be held accountable, and the people of a nation have to be responsible in their choice of leaders."
Dr Victor S Alpher | 07/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I thought it was a goof when we hear a German general suddenly speaking in Russian while negotiating a surrender. So I did a little fact-checking and was surprised to see how accurately events and characters are portrayed, down to the spoken lines and physical appearance of supporting actors. The general in question was Krebs and he was indeed fluent in Russian (Cornelius Ryan, "The Last Battle", p. 468)
For historical accuracy alone, this is a movie that puts all of Hollywood war movies to shame."
"Tomorrow millions will curse me - but fate has already set
TrezKu13 | Norfolk, VA | 02/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There have been many misconceptions about this film. I first heard about it because many people had accused it of looking sympathetically at Hitler, while others claim it ignores the suffering of the Jews. After watching the film at last and learning in depth what went behind it, I can conclude those people really have no idea what they are talking about.
"The Downfall" is the story of the last days of the Third Reich, one of the most destructive forces in the history of mankind, taken almost entirely from the point of view of Traudl Junge. (Hitler's personal secretary) The Russians are now at the edge of the city and Germany's great capitol is engulfed in chaos. "Operation Clausewitz" is put into effect, and high Nazi officials leave Berlin to continue the war outside the city, Hitler himself choosing to stay behind with many top military and personal advisors including Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels...and his entire family.
As the Reich collapses on the outside, it continually draws itself in. Hitler retreats to his bunker, staying there almost indefinately for the entire movie. Friends and allies around him either flee or betray him, isolating him with his madness. The bunker takes on a very claustrophobic feel as the Third Reich crumbles, destructive men causing their own destruction. Thousands of Nazis commit suicide or fight and die for a cause they believe in. Even after Hitler dies (and if you think that's a spoiler, slap yourself in the head) the Reich continues to exist. It isn't until word comes that the German army has surrendered that fighting finally comes to an end, and even then loyal Nazis readily put guns to their heads and pull the trigger, finding it dishonorable to outlive their Fuhrer.
The accusations on the film making Hitler appear sympathetic are due to one of the goals of the filmmakers: make a picture about the Nazis not as caricatures but as real people. This doesn't mean they didn't think the Nazis were bad - listen to the interviews of the actors and film crew, and listen to how every minute they describe the characters as diabolical monsters. The purpose of this, as the director points out in the commentary, (by the way, my compliments to Oliver Hirschbiegel for his excellent English) was to keep ourselves from repeating what had happened. The Nazis didn't see the Jews as people and so could easily kill them - if we don't see the Nazis as people, then we are no better. It also reminds us that evil is not incarnate because a guy looks evil or because a guy belongs to a particular group of society - evil is found within the human heart itself. Hitler was recorded as a man who had a great charm, and could easily win your heart as much as fear him. Bruno Ganz carries this off EXTREMELY well, and has to be the best portrayel of Hitler I've ever seen on screen. He plays Hitler as he was - an actor and true politician that would smile to a friend or lady, then turn around and scream at the generals to get them to do what he wanted.
As a historical film, it excels above others in its genre. Nearly everything said or done is taken from eyewitness accounts, making you feel like you truly are watching history unfold. The urban combat scenes are the best I've seen, with no gunfire quieting when characters speak, no artificial lighting; everything's dirty, grimy, character's yell at one another, gunfire blasts louder than a person can stand - it's war! The actors all turn in great performances, even those who did not want to take the role (Ulrich Matthes almost turned down the role of Goebbels because of how horrible he was) or had trouble doing it. (Corinna Harfouch, herself a mother of three, broke down crying several times during the sequence where Goebbels' children are killed) Even Aline Sokar, who plays Helga Goebbels, is memorable, and you won't soon forget the scene where she tearfully begs her mother to not make her drink the "medicine."
The DVD comes with a making of documentary, which shows filming in St. Petersburg (!) as well as interviews with the various actors, even André Hennicke who plays Mohnke. There is also the already mentioned commentary with director Oliver Hirschbiegel, and any one who thinks this film is pro-Nazi is encouraged to listen to the commentary to learn otherwise. Hirschbiegel explains a lot of the historical facts (the man definately did his research) and reasoning behind this film.
A classic war film, German or otherwise, and perhaps the best depiction of the Third Reich to date. Watch it, and enter a world that seduced an entire nation and drove them to war. A world that is self-destructive, both metaphorically and physically. A world where parents kill their children without emotion, men kill their families, and where followers of a cause are oblivious to it's own end. It is true madness, but what makes this film haunting is it is all here, realisticly depicted and unadulterated. These men really existed, and rose to great power - we must always remember to try and prevent these men from entering power again."