NaPolA Elite für den Führer aka Before the Fall (2004) Looking into the Mechanics of Black Pedagogy

To call this movie brilliant is an understatement. The German movie NaPola is quite an achievement. It perfectly illustrates the German concept of Schwarze Pädagogik meaning Poisonous or Black Pedagogy. Psychologists believe today that this harmful pedagogy was one of the root causes for the success of Hitler and the wide acceptance of Nazism.

NaPola is the story of two boys,  their friendship and “the pity of it all”. Friedrich (Max Riemelt) personifies the Nazi ideal to a high degree. Strong, able, intelligent. A talented young boxer. It doesn´t take long and he is recruited for one of Hitler´s NaPolA´s (National Political Academy) where the elite of German youth is trained, educated and above all fanaticized. NaPolA´s are in part boot camp, in part higher education. Once in school, he meets Albrecht (Tom Schilling), the son of a Gauleiter. Albrecht is the very opposite of Friedrich. He is  frail, sensitive and intellectual. His father, a fanatic,  obnoxious idiot hates his son´s guts. Albrecht personifies everything  he despises. Too small, too weak, too spiritual. Because Albrecht´s father is a Gauleiter, life at the NaPola is not so difficult for him  as he is protected. For Friedrich it is not difficult as he is very sporting and strong but many of the others show sings of being traumatized. Discipline, total obedience and endurance are the key words of this education. As unlikely as it seems, the two boys like each other a lot and become very close friends until the tragic end. The story of the two boys is exemplary for many stories of children and young people who were sent to NaPola´s. Towards the end of the war, when it was quite obvious that Germany was going to lose, Hitler sent all the boys from the Napola´s to the front where 50% of them died.

Everybody who knows me or follows this blog knows I am a sucker for great score. None other than Angelo Badalamenti (see all the scores and listen to his work on his fantastic Homepage) who did the scores for two of my top favourite movies Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway (Yes, they are not war movies.) did the score for NaPolA. It´s perfection. Badalamenti is no Hans Zimmer, he is far more subtle.

This is a 5/5 star movie and  a must-see for many reasons.

I would like to point out that whoever is interested in some psychological analysis of the Third Reich may find ample material in Erich Fromm´s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness and Alice Miller´s For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence.

Further war movies with children or young people can be found on my list Children in War Movies.


14 thoughts on “NaPolA Elite für den Führer aka Before the Fall (2004) Looking into the Mechanics of Black Pedagogy

  1. […] Before the Fall aka Napola (2004, Germany): WWII, Germany (see my review of NaPola) […]

  2. […] at the Hitler Youth. How they recruited their elite, how they brainwashed them. Poisonous Pedagogy. See my review for more details. This movie is also on the Children in War Movies […]

  3. […] post on the movie Napola got me a quote on a DVD […]

  4. Novroz says:

    I have never heard of this before…your review is really impressive and 5 stars!! I am intrigued.

    I am going to download it after my Benedict Cumberbatch movie has finished being donwloaded. I am using illegal way to watch movies now because you know why 😉

  5. nem baj says:

    “Discipline, total obedience and endurance are the key words of this education.” Sure, but how are they obtained as well as enforced?

    The concept of resocialization was at the core of a lot of education theories – and practices – in Europe at the time, is still at the core of military training, and is probably still pervasive in other parts of the world today. None of its vital aspects (severance of the links to family and friends, body control, abusive surveillance, reaction conditioning, group pressure, group spirit building, seduction, giving a meaning to violence, etc.) are seriously displayed here.

    The beginning of Before the fall starts many, too many perhaps, interesting threads (Weimer’s relationship to his parents, the boxing trainer’s charisma, the proctor’s possible homosexuality, etc.) and then… follows none. In fact, apart from one hardly believable scene with the Russian POWs, it looks like a rather loose boarding school for the era.

    Of course we sympathize with the two main characters, as they eventually reject what they’re submitted to. However this sympathy is obtained by cheap tricks (like svastikas and the big bad gauleiter, the scene in the woods, the scene at the lake), as the movie totally fails at making us touch why all the others go for it.

    Thus, it also fails at pointing out why such a system is an excellent basis for group indoctrination (with any ideology), which is a pity since the NaPolas were not meant to train soldiers, but party executives.

    To his credit, the director did a better job later on the same subject in Die Welle, with a similar cast but in a contemporary setting.

    • You’re so cruel. I guess you did really not like this. Sorry I made you watch it.
      I thought it was excellent but a lot of it may have been more implicit than explicit, that is possible.
      As Fromm and other psychologists showed very well, it would have been hard to have the same results in another country at this point in time as the ground was already set because of the very authoritarian way children were raised in German. Maybe I’m guilty of what you’d call “overreading” in literary theory.
      Die Welle is excellent, I agree but I thought this one was as well.

      • nem baj says:

        Sorry, just trying to explain the reasons I didn’t like the movie (as I’m not a fan of simple likes/dislikes). And of course I don’t regret watching it.

        Don’t you think Full Metal Jacket provides a much deeper exploration into how an education system can engineer consent to organized, collective violence?

      • I was not entirely serious in my comment. 🙂 I must admit however I was surprised that you disliked it that much.
        Sure, Full Metal Jacket shows this as well but it’s quite different. It’s another type of training, I’d say.

      • nem baj says:

        “Discipline, total obedience and endurance…”: is it that different?

        I’m not as proficient in pedagogics as you are, however I remember reading some treatises on military training (for young recruits or draftees) from the 60’s, and both goals and methods bore a striking resemblance to the ‘authoritarian’ boarding schools.

      • I’m sure there are similarities what is totally different however and that is shown even better in The Ogre is the esthetics. I’m not sure it’s importnat in “usual” military discipline.
        The visuals of Nazism were part of the success.
        Not exactly the same topic.
        I still think that the way children were brought up (I think Das weisse Band – is it The White Ribbon? want’s to illustrate part of that as well) was distinctly different in Germany.

      • nem baj says:

        Yes, visual esthetics are very important in military training. That’s why they have uniforms, ceremonies (from role call to flag-raising to public parades), sacred symbols (like the flag), why bodies must be perfectly aligned whether still or in motion, why you can’t put posters on your bedroom wall, why so many movements are precisely choreographed (salutes, positions, weapon presentation etc.), not to mention the visual signs of hierarchy, haircuts and so on…

        And you’re right: the nazi – and the soviet – regime pushed this very far, but as you wrote yourself this is better shown in The Ogre, hence my remark this Napola looked rather ordinary, if you consider what was done in either orphanages or the upper class boarding schools at the time.

        PS : I also agree that The White ribbon is an excellent movie, but it focuses more on the individual than on group dynamics. Have you seen The Young Törless?.And on a different note, Mädchen in Uniform? It was a huge success in 1931.

      • I just think the Nazi’s perfected esthetics, as you say too. I still thought we saw well in the relations between children and parents that the atmopshere in some families was very frosty. I’ve only read Törless, never watched it. I’ll try and see if I can watch it. I’m not sure about Mädchen in Uniform. I have not read it but may have seen it years ago on TV.

  6. […] most likely would never hear of it if Caroline @ Beauty Is a sleeping Cat never mentioned in her All About War Movies blog. Her review really intrigued […]

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