Monday, August 08, 2005

Downfall (Untergang, Der)

We watched this amazing German movie over the weekend and have to rate this as amongst the best WWII movies right up there with The Longest Day, Schindlers List and Battleship Potemkin. This movie recounts the last days of the Nazi Reich and Hitler’s last days spent bunkered down in Berlin, bouncing between bouts of rage, loathing, loneliness and depression. The story is narrated from the viewpoint of a young secretary to Hitler, Traudl Junge, who is ensnared in the Nazi propaganda and is drawn by curiosity towards this rather prestigious assignment. There are two other characters as well around which the screenplay has been woven, a young 10-12 year old boy who joins the party to defend Berlin against the Allies and a doctor who works for the government, but can’t really make sense of all the madness around him.

Hitler is just one of the characters amongst 10-15 central characters depicted in the movie, but easily the most riveting character and acted superlatively by Bruno Ganz. Watch this movie which elucidates the futility of war. Watch this movie for the competent screen play. Watch this movie to understand how heroes get built, deified and then are held accountable for other peoples dreams and aspirations when things don’t go the way they are supposed to. Watch this movie because it drives the point home that we are still not too far away to give up our life as we know it, and can anytime be plunged into the deep dark eddies of death and destruction that we bring upon ourselves.

Amidst the incessant shelling by the Russians, Hitler sits in his bunker, hunkered down with his Generals, plotting his next move. The tremor in his hand, from the Parkinson’s that afflicted him, is quite pronounced, as he sits as his desk and watches the enemy advance on the map. As Germany crumbles and the Russians advance closer to Berlin, Hitler get more delusional and out of touch with reality. The scenes where he rages about the German army getting in the way of his plans or at Goering who wants to assume command of the Chancellery and at Himmler when he joins hands with the Allies are superbly enacted. Brune Ganz oscillates between lunacy and benevolence while dealing with his secretarial staff or his beloved dog Blondie. Dr. Goebbels, who was second in command after Hitler, watches his Fuhrer lose control of his senses, but is committed to Hitler. Albert Spreer, Hitler’s confidant and architect, is one of very few men around Hitler who is not in awe of him. Spreer pleads for Hitler to surrender, to alleviate the suffering for the common man, but Hitler is too arrogant and proud to surrender. At the cost of loss of ordinary German lines, he is willing to fight back, because that is what, he believes, the Germans have signed up for and they cannot escape their destiny.

Joseph and Magda Goebbels who are encamped in the bunker with their six young children, believing that Hitler will flee Berlin, taking with him the hopes and dreams for their redemption. Magda Goebbels is ready to let her children die, because according to her, the children are too good to be bought up in an environment without National Socialism. The scene where she poisons the children to death has obviously been played out for the appropriate cinematic effects to gnaw at the heart strings, and it is gut wrenching.

There are several surreal moments in the picture, when Eva Brown and the secretaries come out for a walk, during a respite from the bombings, Eva Braun’s letter to her sister requesting her to collect her diamond necklace from the jewelers, the young Nazi boy fleeing for his life when the Russians enter Berlin, the look on Hitler’s face when he is dictating his final testament. The best part about this movie is that the director did not portray the Nazi regime as satanic nor glorify it in any means. Reality of the last days of the third Reich couldn’t have been farther from what the movie depicts. Overall this movie is excellent stuff and I would recommend it highly for purveyors of good cinema.


Blogger Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sourin
Sounds like a very interesting I'll never watch. My wife hates depressing films.

I can't imagine a mother poisoning her children. What madcaps they were.

10:29 PM  
Blogger nomadic_waves said...

Seems like a nice movie...might catch up wid it some day.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Charu said...

I would find any movie about the nazi time, however well made, depressing... even reading about it... but it is amazing just how effective the propaganda mechanism worked at that time... ordinary Germans, otherwise decent human beings believed in Hitler and what he stood for (whatever that was?)

3:23 AM  
Blogger gawker said...

Nice review. Charu, I don't think the times of Hitler were very different from the times of George W Bush. With a little bit of national tragedy, a little bit of patriotism and a teaspoonful of hateful propaganda, normally intelligent people can be brainwashed to commit crimes in the name of the country.

8:41 AM  
Blogger chappan said...

Thanks Michael, Nomadic, Charu and Gawker
This is indeed a touching film, if nothing it teaches us the ills of wear. And yes it was depressing, but it doesnt tell us anything that we dont know already.
I just appreciate good cinema in general, so I get excited when I see movies like this or American Beauty or Swades. Poetry in motion.
As far as propoganda manchine goes, yes you are right Charu. Look at the recruits for Al Qaeda, the teacher in London who killed himself. Seemed like a sane guy with a wife and 5 month old kid. Bombed himself, all for what !!!

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Sourin,
I too am a WW II movie buff. But I havent seen this movie yet. Your review was very informative, as always.

Going direct to blockbuster now:).


5:07 PM  
Blogger uncleji said...

Battleship Potemkin = World War Two, I don't think so (try World War One Russian Revolution). Edit this out quick or face your compromising your unbleachable reputation.

nice blog otherwise I shall be returning soon and insist ALL the homework is done by tea.

6:45 AM  

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