March 8, 2006 -- Downfall (Der Untergang) is an important historical movie about the last days of the Third Reich. It is the first German film to depict Hitler's reign directly since the end of World War II.
Hitler is portrayed as the complex character he was by Bruno Ganz (“The Manchurian Candidate”). At times, he was gentle and compassionate with friends and employees, at the same time capable of ordering the deaths of millions, including people loyal to him. Hitler's unwillingness to face the fact that Germany had lost the war cost countless more lives. Even in the last few days of the regime, this terrible toll continued. The movie goes beyond the bunker to show the results of Hitler's decisions on the remnants of the German army and on the ordinary people of Berlin.
The film follows a number of characters from a young fighter recruited from the Hitler Youth, to high level German officials trying to care for the sick and wounded. Among the most tragic victims in the film are the six lovely children of Joseph Goebbles (played by Ulrich Matthes), the propaganda minister who believed his own propaganda, it seems. The chilling image of his wife, Magda Goebbels (Corinna Harfouch) methodically murdering her own children is one that will stick with me a long time. Another is the large number of suicides among the SS officers.
The movie goes beyond the last days of Hitler himself, to show how his evil policies continued to kill people even after Goebbles took over the government. The movie tries to explain how Hitler was able to inspire such extreme loyalty. The extras on the DVD try to elaborate further on the the attempt to explain this loyalty. One explanation given is that Hitler was always supremely confident in his decisions. He gave the impression that he always had the right solution to every problem. Also, he never wavered from his core beliefs. He did not compromise.
In an interesting comment, Hitler was compared to a movie director, in that he was good at orchestrating events. This brings to mind the obvious comparison to President George Bush, who shares some of those traits with Hitler. He has a lot of confidence in his decisions, even when he is dead wrong. He never looks back, never admits he made a mistake. He inspires a lot of loyalty in his followers. He is very good at exploiting fear and hatred to get what he wants.
Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler) emerges in this film as a fun-loving woman who truly loved Hitler. Braun is portrayed as a woman who clearly saw two Hitlers. One is her lover, the gentle and kind Hitler. The other Hitler is the Fuhrer, the hard, unforgiving man who demanded complete loyalty. Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge (played by Alexandra Maria Lara) one of the few survivors of the bunker, is also caught up in the worship of Hitler, but she managed to escape Berlin at the last moment. Junge wrote a book about her experiences which formed the basis of the movie, along with other books about the last days of the war.
At the end of the film, there are some brief notes about what happened to some of the bunker survivors. There is no dubbed English soundtrack for this film, just the original German soundtrack with English subtitles. It is important to note that Germans made this film, but they didn't pull any punches that I noticed, although the movie does go out of its way to argue that Germans were victims as well as oppressors. This unflinching film rates a B+.
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