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From the Past

Films on the to-do list

  • Armageddon Time
  • Black Widow
  • Chimes at Midnight
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  • Last Christmas
  • Remember Sunday
  • Shazam! 2
  • Thor: Love and Thunder
  • Spy Guys

Der Untergang – Downfall (2004)

Film review: Der Untergang [Downfall] (2004), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

If you’ve ever seen a video where Adolf Hitler gets really, really upset about something (the lack of giant squid at the end of Watchmen, being banned from Wikipedia and what have you) and starts shouting, this is where that film clip is from. Der Untergang, or Downfall as it’s called in English, chronicles the very end of World War II, straight from the Führer’s bunker.

Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) is a young woman from München/Munich who gets hired as a secretary to Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz). As the war is slipping further out of Hitler’s control, we follow the two of them, along with other people known from the history books: Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler), Heinrich Himmler (Ulrich Noethen), Joseph Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes) with wife Magda (Corinna Harfouch, or “the badly dubbed woman in Stockholm Marathon), Albert Speer (Heino Ferch), and many others.

This review contains some spoilers … but only if you don’t know history.

Aside from Traudl, Schenck (Christian Berkel) is probably the only one who comes across as a properly likeable character. History seems to point at Schenck not being quite so sympathetic to concentration camp inmates, however. Eva Braun – Mrs Hitler – came across as slightly manic and unhinged. But then again, isn’t that a prerequisite for wanting to marry Hitler of all people?

Der Untergang is currently rated #94 in the Top 250 films on IMDb and it’s for good reason. It’s a film that you can’t sit through and not have a multitude of feelings. From disbelief at people not wanting to live in a world without Nazis, to shock at the horrors of death – the most chilling of all, and the one that got me the most, was the cold-blooded murder of the Goebbels children by their own mother – and suicide, to disgust and horror. Especially when you realise that some of the people who committed suicide did so not because they figured they’d stand trial and get executed, but because they had nothing left. Being led by the Führer was all they had, and with him gone, they really couldn’t see how life could eventually pick itself back up.

The performances of everyone was stellar, especially that of Bruno Ganz, who of course had the thankless task of being one of the most despised men in history. It’s good that they’ve got actors who look like the people they are portraying, it adds another level of realism to the proceedings.

Speaking of reality, this film isn’t fictional. It’s based on a number of books with historical accounts. Does it glorify Hitler? I would say no. It shows him as a human being, who is nice to the girls who have come to try out to be his secretary, he loves dogs and at one point he even kisses a woman. But at the same time, it shows him as a shouty man who wants everyone who dares even mentioning abandoning the sinking ship to be executed. He wasn’t a nice man and he was clearly delusional.

To portray him as a human being I think serves a purpose: if we keep portraying him as a hideous monster, we distance ourselves from what he did. After all, what he did can’t happen again, because he was clearly some sort of supervillain, and supervillains don’t exist. He was the exception to confirm the rule. Wrong! He was a living, breathing human being, just like you and I. What he did can happen again, given the right circumstances. Don’t ever forget that.

5 out of 5 German Shepherd dogs.


An easily distracted and over-excited introvert who never learns to go to bed at a reasonable time. Enjoys traveling (when there's not a plague on), and taking photos of European architecture. Cares for cats, good coffee and Boardwalk Empire. A child of her time, she did media studies in school and still can't decide what she wants to be when she grows up.

2 thoughts on “Der Untergang – Downfall (2004)

  1. I love, love, love this movie. PH introduced me to it years ago, long before the whole “Downfall” meme became a thing.

    It just made me laugh at those Downfall videos just that much harder.

    I should make one about Twilight. Or something.

  2. Aww, Twilight vs Downfall. Sounds like a crime, somehow – soiling a really good film in that way. Although I’m sure if you did it, it would be hilarious. 😀

    My only niggle with the DVD was that it only had Scandinavian subtitles, so I couldn’t see it with the hubby, who probably would have enjoyed it too, but would also have needed subtitles to understand properly.

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