Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Der Untergang/Downfall (2004)


As Berlin is surrounded on all sides by Allied soldiers, Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz) tries to come up with any last ditch effort to save his German ideal. Meanwhile those around him struggle with their loyalty to Hitler, the soldiers still fighting, the civilians, and their desire to flee before being killed by the Russian onslaught.

Dark, depressing, humanizing, and powerful, Hirschbiegel's (what a mouthful) 2004 epic drama of the last days of Hitler is as captivating, historically accurate, and impacting as war films come. The cast, highlighted by Ganz, is simply amazing, backed by HBs gritty and careful tone, centered on telling the true story, bringing to life the real struggles of some of the most hated people in history. There's no denying this movie is dark, from the central characters being Nazis to the underlying fact that many opt to do devastating things in the face of the Russian threat.

As a narrative the movie is told from 3 perspectives: The first being that of Hitler himself, the second being his secretary Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara -who wrote a book on the events depicted in the film), and Dr. Schenck (Christian Berkel) who opts to stay behind in order to care for the remaining troops. The torn nature of these characters presents us with a sense curiosity, some possessing ignorance to what is going on around them, and some only caring of what happens to themselves.

The humanizing of these characters has been pretty much the only real public criticism of the film. I disagree though that this is a bad thing. It's a dark, pressuring, reminder that those who enacted such violent, insane, and painful crimes were human, flawed, and were allowed to make those decisions because people wanted to remain ignorant. To try and leave them as nothing but historical figures, would be to leave them in the past, ignorance to the possibility that if not taught correctly such events could occur again.

This is why I respect this film so incredibly much, it tells the story as it happened (within reason), not ignoring character traits/facts in favor of entertainment or broad appeal. The only downside to that fact is the movie drags its feet from time to time, but our overbearing curiosity as to what happens to these characters, how did each of them meet their ultimate fates, strives the viewer to continue watching. In the end, there's no real happy scene, the characters that survive you could only say are the lesser of the evils displayed, not really sympathetic characters. With that though comes the moral question, how do we judge the ignorant?

As films of its nature go though, you simply won't find a better display of historical storytelling during a time of extreme pain in the world. Ultimately though, Der Untergang will tug at all of your emotional and moral cords, pulling them to the extreme, as it challenges you to witness the final days of the most villainous man in history.

An all around masterpiece, Der Untergang/Downfall may not sit well with your stomach, but intellectually you couldn't ask for a more real, and powerful, film.

1 better thoughts:

Lemmy Caution said...

Couldn't agree more. I've watched this a few times now. Gets better every time. Reminds of Das Boot in more than a few ways. Classic.

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