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.