Hopefully, this thread will NOT be considered a 'dupe' topic of the previous thread on the newly-released German produced film about the final days of the Third Recih, entitled 'Downfall'
But, who knows? Bunker Mentality"Downfall" and the collapse of the Third Reich.
by Victorino Matus, 03/11/2005 9:00:00 AM, The Weekly Standard Magazine Online
IMAGINE WHAT A FILM about the fall of Berlin would look like if it were produced by Roland Emmerich (Godzilla
) and directed by Michael Bay (Armageddon
). Maybe Liv Tyler could play the secretary, Traudl Junge. Ben Affleck could be SS doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck, trying to save the lives of hundreds of men and boys in a makeshift hospital without breaking a sweat. And of course who else could play Hitler but Jon Voight?
In other words, the fall of Berlin was bad enough. But a movie about it poorly done--albeit with amazing special effects--could be much worse. Which is why the German film Downfall
is all the more remarkable. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and starring actors most Americans haven't heard of, Downfall
follows Hitler and several other bunker "inmates" during the final days of the Third Reich. The movie has received kudos (including an Oscar nomination for best foreign film) because of its historical accuracy--at least in its adherence to the details in both Traudl Junge's Until the Final Hour
and historian Joachim Fest's Inside Hitler's Bunker
But equally crucial is Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Adolf Hitler, not as a "caricature of evil," as some critics note, but as a charismatic figure who, despite his world falling apart, was still capable of hypnotizing his followers and making them believe victory was imminent. At the same time, Ganz's Hitler is haggard, frail, and increasingly given to meltdowns and tirades--almost exclusively directed towards his generals.
To the women and children, the Führer was kind and fatherly. In the situation conferences, Hitler was a brilliant tactician who slipped into madness and, by April of 1945, was directing armies that existed only on his maps. It is in playing this multifaceted character so precisely that Ganz, an accomplished actor both on stage and screen, succeeds and possibly even surpasses Alec Guinness's and Anthony Hopkins's portrayals of the German leader.
Sixty years after the Red Army conquered Berlin, Germans are still wary of dealing with their dark past. "Can we actually show Hitler [in Downfall
] in such a human light? And should we?" asked one German. Unsurprisingly, the film has sparked great discussion in Germany about how one should portray Hitler. Clearly any movie, no matter how grim, demands a protagonist. But does the star of Downfall
necessarily become the man we root for in his struggle against the evil forces of Bolshevism?
The answer (to everyone's relief) is no. Ganz as Hitler, even with a soft touch, is still a megalomaniacal dictator with little regard for life. The person we do find sympathetic is Traudl Junge, the young secretary who worked for Hitler without knowing (so she claims) about the atrocities committed against all of civilization. (It also helps that Junge is played by the stunningly gorgeous Alexandra Maria Lara.) Another "positive" role is that of Dr. Ernst-Günther Schenck, whose main concern is saving lives and putting a stop to the madness. (In one scene, Schenck defies his superiors and enters a supposedly abandoned hospital, only to find it is the medical staff that has abandoned a crowd of elderly Germans who have been left behind to die.)
That said, there is much evil to be found in Downfall
, spanning from the ruthless Werewolf squads hanging deserters (including boys and 70-year-old men) to Hitler ordering his chief architect Albert Speer to follow through with his "Nero Command" and destroying all public utilities so as to leave Berlin "a desert, void of civilization." In what is undoubtedly the most disturbing scene, Magda Goebbels, wife of the propaganda minister, administers poison, with the aid of a doctor, to her six children, the eldest of which seems to know what is happening and, much to our horror, futilely resists.
As for the daily existence in the bunker, some 33 feet below ground, director Oliver Hirschbiegel does a masterful job in creating confinement. And as capitulation nears, the bunker becomes even more congested with refugees, the injured, and the inebriated. According to Joachim Fest, Albert Speer was surprised to find, on April 23, 1945, "people smoking in the anterooms, half-empty bottles standing around. Only rarely did anyone get up when Hitler entered the room, nor did conversation cease when he passed by."
In addition, the Führer's appearance had greatly diminished. From Inside Hitler's Bunker
, a staff officer described Hitler "in terrible physical shape, dragging himself along slowly and laboriously from his living quarters to the bunker conference room, throwing his upper body forward and pulling his legs along . . . . His eyes were bloodshot . . . . Saliva often trickled from the corners of his mouth." Said one secretary: "He would lie there, completely apathetic, thinking only of . . . chocolate and cake. His craving for cake had become pathological. Before, he used to eat three pieces of cake at most, but now he had them fill his plate to overflowing three times."
All of this is captured in Downfall
. Indeed, the only disappointment in the film is its failure to render the titanic battles for the Reichstag and other landmarks on a larger scale. Part of this is because, even to this day, no one is sure exactly how the Reichstag was captured. The other obvious aspect is the lack of a Hollywood budget. If Hirschbiegel and producer Bernd Eichinger had at their disposal the money shelled out for schlock blockbusters like Pearl Harbor
would be an apocalyptic masterpiece. Then again, a tighter budget is a relatively small price to pay for a gripping drama and a stellar cast. Not to mention a director whose name is not "Michael Bay."
Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard and a contributor to the blog Galley Slaves.
'Verrry interrrresting' ~ Arte Johnson, Laugh-In