Der Untergang aka The Downfall is one of the very best war movies I have ever seen. It’s fascinating, chilling and marvelously well acted. Swiss actor Bruno Ganz gives one of the best Hitler performances I’ve ever seen and this despite the fact that he did at first not want to play the part. If you are familiar with Bruno Ganz you know that this accomplished and gentle actor usually plays very different roles.
The idea to focus on the very last months of Hitler’s life was very well-chosen and to open and finish the movie with the testimony of one of those who were in the bunker with him until his death, gave it an another dimension and explored something that I have never forgotten since I first saw this movie. Traudl Junge was 22 when she was hired to work as the Führer’s personal secretary and went to live with him and his staff in the bunker in Berlin. The whole time while the situation went from serious to hopeless, while the Russians were advancing in the East and the Americans and the other allies in the West, she stayed with Hitler, his wife, the Goebbels and many others in this sinister place. In the opening sequence and the closing part, the real Traudl Junge, meanwhile an old woman, says that she cannot forgive herself for not seeing it. She wasn’t any younger than Sophie Scholl, who died at 22 fighting the Nazis. Youth is no excuse, she says. Others saw it, she didn’t. Including her also underlined the historical accuracy of the movie.
In these final months when most of his generals and officers already knew that the war was lost and that the Russians would take Berlin, Hitler still tried to convince himself that they would still win. At the same time he carefully prepared his and his wife’s suicide, making sure that their bodies wouldn’t fall into the hand’s of the Russians. That Hitler was mad is undeniable but in these final months even the most hardened followers started to realize that he had some serious and fatal issues. He went from one outburst to the next, raging and roaring and putting everyone ill at ease. Some of the people around him tried to tell him that all was lost but he didn’t listen. Some, like Hitler, still believed the war could be won and others who knew better still stood by his side as they had sworn allegiance. These were the ones who would never leave him. The number of suicides that followed Hitler’s suicide and the German capitulation is amazing.
Although I had seen The Downfall before there were a lot of details I had forgotten. For example the fact that Hitler didn’t care what was happening to the German people. In his reactions to the generals and officers who were pleading to save the German people one could really see the extent of the madness of this man.
I had also forgotten how intense the fighting was in the city of Berlin and how on the side of the Germans everyone was fighting, even children.
The most chilling part is played by Corinna Harfouch as Magda Goebbels. The wife of Joseph Goebbels and mother of seven children was the exemplary German wife and mother. A fervent Nazi and believer in Nazi ideology she not only decided to follow her husband in his suicide but she took all of her children with her, killing each one of them with her own hands.
If you haven’t seen this movie already, you should really watch it. It’s fantastic and you will be able to see most of the great German actors in outstanding performances.
The Downfall is one of the movies on my list of 10 German War Movies You Must See Before You Die
[…] Der Untergang aka The Downfall (2004): WWII, Berlin. The final days of Hitler. Astonishing acting from the very great Bruno Ganz. A fascinating portrait. Eerie. Creepy. An outstanding movie and a must see even for those who don’t watch war movies. (see my post on The Downfall) […]
Excellent review. I can’t wait to rewatch it but alas that will not be for a while because it is #35. I guess you would say it should be rated higher. I think I will agree. The acting is fantastic across the board and the movie is admirably accurate.
Tahnks, Kevin. I would place it higher but below Das Boot which I think is my favourite German war movie together with Stalingrad. It’s great to watch Sophie Scholl as a companion piece to The Downfall and compare these two young women. I can’t excuse Traudl Junge.
I wouldn’t want to portray Hitler either. This one looks like a great movie.
I did understand his reservations. It’s an absolute must-see.
My library has a copy!
Oh good, I’m looking forward to hear what you think of it.
I totally agree that this movie is one of the very best war movies.
There are so many emotion in it.
That part where the mother poisoned the children was really scary. She shouldn’t have done such thing.
Thanks Novia. Magda Goebbels is such a chilling character, when I saw the poison scene the first time it made me feel very weird. Especially the one daughter who senses that something will happen.
It’s such a great movie.
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