Der Untergang aka The Downfall (2004)

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

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Hitler – The Rise of Evil (2003) Hitler´s Childhood, Youth and Early Years

The only thing necessary

for evil to flourish

is for good men

to do nothing.  (Edmund Burke)

Hitler – The Rise of Evil follows Hitler´s early years. First his childhood with an abusive father, then the pursuit of his dream to become a great artist which lack of talent prevented. His participation in WWI,  his rise through the ranks of the German Worker´s Party, his imprisonment that gave him time to write Mein Kampf. Even though this movie ends around the year 1934 with Hitler becoming Reich´s President, I think it is fair to include it on a war movie blog as it permits to see what happened prior to WWII and how the Jews were persecuted long before the war

The Scottish actor Robert Carlyle gives a stunning performance starring as Hitler. The madness of Hitler is creepy and palpable. However exactly this has been criticized. When you watch this movie you can´t help thinking all the time: how did he get away with it? He was so obviously deranged, mad and psychologically disturbed that no one should have been tempted to follow him. I think that in showing Hitler exactly like this, this movie contributes to shed another light on him. Sure, we know he was sick but still we tend to see him as a deranged dictator. I would say it is high time to look at him as some sort of head of a sect. He should be paralleled with people like Charles Manson and Jim Jones. The same psychological dynamics that are at work in people who follow cult leaders were also present in many Germans at the time.

The movie also manages to show how many people just didn´t react or looked the other way. There is only one journalist (played by Matthew Modine) who points out how dangerous Hitler is. The Rise of Evil has a close look at Hitler´s relationship with women (his niece and Eva Braun) where his full-blown madness is maybe as evident as in his hatred of the Jews. A great part of the movie focuses on the American/German couple Hanfstaengel. Their importance seems not historically accurate and it might very well be that their role had been extended for the sake of US viewers. I thought it interesting to see how Helene Hanfstaengel (Julianna Margulies) who was against Hitler at the beginning, all of a sudden changed her mind and became one of his most fervent supporters. Many women fell for him, as odd as this may seem. The role played by Ernst Röhm (Peter Stormare) is also explored with great detail as is the person of Hindenburg (Peter O’ Toole)

Nobody should compare this film to Der Untergang aka The Downfall as hardly any movie is as good as that but it is thought-provoking, interesting and, as already said, Carlyle is amazingly good.