Friday, January 06, 2017

Der Untergang/Downfall (2004)

You may have come across a meme showing Adolf Hitler screaming at several of his advisors in a crowded room.  (I think the name usually starts with something like “Hitler reacts to…”.)  There are a variety of topics, from Hitler finding out his Xbox account was banned to having to see Don’t Mess With the Zohan.  The clip comes from a movie called Downfall.

According you Know Your Meme, the director was amused by the usage.  The studio, not so much, although they seem to have eventually relented.  (There’s even one of Hitler trying to have the various parodies taken down.)  I have to admit that I’m somewhere in between.  Some of the videos are funny, but we’re talking about Hitler during the final days of WWII.  It’s a pretty heavy and loaded subject.

While looking through Netflix for movies to stream, I came across Downfall.  I immediately recognized this as the movie that spawned the meme.  I decided to watch the movie to put the clip in context.  (I noticed that the movie ran for over 2½ hours, so I decided to save it for later.)  I’m not sure that this should be your only reason for watching it.

The movie is primarily about the last days of Adolf Hitler.  He, Eva Braun, his closest advisors and a few others spent them in a bunker underneath Berlin.   Germany was losing at that point.  It was a matter of time before they’d have to surrender.  Almost everyone in the bunker was advising Hitler to leave Berlin, but he would have none of it.  Anyone who didn’t obey his orders was less than scum.

Outside the bunker, Berlin was in ruins.  (This suited Hitler just fine.  It would be that much easier to implement his  plan for an even better Berlin.)  People are hurt.  Troops and civilians alike are injured or dead.  Children are fighting for Germany.  Hitler even gives out medals to some of them.  He refuses to leave.  He refuses to surrender.

This is one of those movies where a spoiler alert isn’t really appropriate.  Anyone familiar with World War II should know the basic plot of the movie.  For those that don’t, you may want to stop reading.  This isn’t necessarily for fear of ruining the movie, but because the movie does go into some detail.  We see a doctor assist Joseph and Magda Goebbels in killing their children.  This isn’t even the scene that I find most disturbing.  We also see Hitler test a cyanide pill on his dog.  (The movie doesn’t show the dog actually dying, but it’s still clear what‘s happening.)  There are also several suicides towards the end of the movie.

As you might expect from the meme, there are a lot of scenes with Hitler yelling at people.  Those that follow his orders are golden.  Those that don’t deserve to die.  There are also scenes with him being kind to people.  The movie uses clips from an interview with Hitler’s secretary, Traudl Junge, as bookends.  (In the movie, she’s played by Alexandra Maria Lara.)  Hitler is somewhat pleasant with her.  There are several scenes where he is charismatic.

This isn’t to say that he was a nice person.  Hitler was someone that knew how to manipulate people.  What might appear to be kindness would have simply been a means to an end.  Bruno Ganz was effective as Hitler in letting that manipulative nature come through.  Hitler may be spouting pleasantries, but there’s still an underlying sense of malevolence.  (And then we’re right back to him screaming at people.)

I would set the movie aside for when you have a few hours to watch the whole thing.  It’s a long movie and is pretty densely packed.  It didn’t seem to drag so much as I would occasionally feel like I had watched an entire movie in over the course of 15 minutes.  It’s also a German film in German with subtitles.  (Netflix didn’t offer English audio, not that I would have used it.)  You may be able to watch the entire movie, but I had to get up a few times to walk around.

If you’re looking for movies dealing with Hitler, a few other movies come to mind.  One is Look Who’s Back, which deals with Hitler mysteriously appearing in modern Berlin.  There’s also Hitler’s Children, which looks at relatives of some of Hitler’s inner circle.  Downfall may be too intense for some.  I know my mother wouldn’t like it.  My father, who has an interest in World War II, probably wouldn’t be able to watch the entire movie.  As I said, don’t rent this just to see the one scene from the parody videos.  It does come early in the movie, but there’s a lot more to it than just that.  In that regard, it’s difficult to recommend the movie.  It was done well and I do think it’s something people should watch, especially if they have an interest in the movie.  Not everyone will be able to handle it, though.

1 comment :

Alex Diaz-Granados said...

I have this movie, Brian. It's well-made, to be sure, but as you say here, it requires several hours of free time in which to watch it. It's also hard-to-watch, especially when Joseph and Magda Goebbels murder their children.

Great review, my friend!