Downfall: Hitler and the end
of the Third Reich [Der Untergang](10/10)
by Tony Medley
How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over,
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!
Cassius, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene I
That’s what I kept thinking as
I went to see “Downfall,” which is a retelling of Hitler’s final days in
his bunker in April, 1945. We’ve seen it so many times and it’s never
very compelling, generally Hollywood rubbish. When you sit through the
2:30 of “Downfall,” however, you feel as if you are a fly on the wall of
the real bunker with the real Hitler, the real Eva Braun, the real Joseph
Goebbels, the real everything.
Bruno Ganz is as close to
Adolph Hitler without getting the real thing. At one time he’s quiet, soft
spoken, and considerate. The next minute he’s a raving maniac, yelling and
screaming. He is considerate of his secretary but cold-bloodedly orders
the murder of his closest associates.
This film captures the chaos of
the closing days of the Soviet assault on Berlin, the atmosphere of the
bunker, the hopelessness of its inhabitants. This doesn’t seem like a
movie, it’s more like something that has been shot with hidden cameras of
things as they were actually occurring.
I saw “Blind Spot: Hitler’s
Secretary,” (2003) which was a spellbinding interview with Traudl Jung,
the woman who was Hitler’s secretary from 1942-45. Alexandra Maria Lara
looks and acts just as the real Jung must have looked and acted a half
century before the interview with her was filmed.
Images from this film become
seared in your mind’s eye; Hitler forcing a poison pill down his German
Shepherd’s throat, Magda Goebbels (Corinna Harfouche) cajoling her six
young children to take a sedative to put them to sleep so she could
subsequently force a cyanide capsule into their sleeping mouths, the
fanaticism of some of Hitler’s minions.
Kudos to director Oliver
Hirschbiegel for a tasteful presentation of the violence. Unlike modern
Hollywood that glamorizes and details gore for shock value, only once do
we see someone blow his brains out, right at the end of the film. At other
crucial times, like the suicides of Hitler and Eva Braun and Joseph and
Magda Goebbels, the deeds are done off camera. In fact, when Goebbels is
shooting Magda and himself, the camera discreetly pans to the left to the
troops watching and we only hear the two shots.
Sure, some things about World
War II have been overdone. Clearly there is a surfeit of films about the
Holocaust and Hitler’s bunker. But even if you have had your fill of these
films, “Downfall” is one not to be missed. (In German with
February 26, 2005