Der Untergang | Downfall (2004)
Exhibiting relentless realism & exceptional accuracy on-screen, Downfall recreates the events surrounding the final days of German dictator Adolf Hitler’s life in the Führerbunker as well as the fall of the Third Reich & Berlin during World War II. One of world cinema’s finest masterpieces, the one thing that sets Downfall apart from the rest of the films that have dealt with the same subject is that it doesn’t portray Adolf Hitler as a monster but as a human being, managing to even evoke sympathy & pity from its viewers and that is one aspect where this film is an achievement.
Through the accounts of Hitler’s final secretary, Traudl Junge, Downfall paints a completely different picture of the dictator, considered by many to be the most evil of all. Bookended with excerpts from real-life Traudl Junge, the story begins with her first meeting with the Führer after which the film cuts to the final days before the fall of Berlin. By keeping the human characteristics intact in a man labelled by many as a monster, this film boldly defies the conventional portrayal of Hitler in media which was controversial as expected, but in my opinion was a very brave, respectable & important attempt.
Contrary to what one might expect, Downfall doesn’t glorify either Hitler or Nazism. In fact, this film presents the Führer as a completely degraded, broken down & delusional shell of a human being trying to win an already lost cause. You see him moving forces around that no longer exist, blaming Germany’s own citizens for its impending loss in the war and going tirade against his officers in one moment & full of optimism in the next. The film also shows just how profoundly deeply rooted & blind, but true nonetheless, was the faith & loyalty of Hitler’s followers in him & his ideals. So much that many of them chose to kill themselves instead of surrendering and living in a world without National Socialism.
The direction by Oliver Hierschbiegel is an absolute class. With great emphasis on showing the value of a human life, whether evil or not, Hierschbiegel left no stone unturned to film it as accurately as possible to the memoirs from where this is adopted, wherein lies a different truth compared to the one that media has imposed on us ever since. This doesn’t mean that the film is trying to be pro-Nazi but shedding light on the fact that even the Nazi officers were humans capable of emotions & cared about their loved ones as much as anyone else. And that is what makes it more frightening because it is scary to believe that a human can carry out such barbarism against another human being.
Coming to the performances, Bruno Ganz delivers one of decade’s most haunting performances as Adolf Hitler. From mannerism to speech, Ganz truly nailed his non-fictional character, grips & amazes us whenever he is on-screen and gives us the most convincing & near perfect imitation of the Führer in cinema history, so far. Alexandra Maria Lara plays Traudl Junge, Hitler’s final secretary and was amazing as well. The rest of the casting is near perfect too as each actor highly resembled their real-life characters and played them splendidly well. Technically, there are no complaints in any aspects of filmmaking, be it cinematography, editing, art direction or even music.
Very well researched, beautifully detailed, brutally accurate, insanely realistic & highly gripping from start to finish, Downfall attempts to shatter our assumption that only inhuman monsters are capable of doing terrible things and not only illuminates the human characteristics of the greatest evil who ever lived, as the world remembers, but also shows that how even the most charming men can manage to seduce a whole people into barbarism. A German film about the fall of Berlin that places Adolf Hitler in the central role? This isn’t just a landmark moment for cinema but for Germany as well.
Overall, Downfall is a magnificent & treasured piece of world cinema. A perfectly crafted historical account. And an important motion picture that deserves to be shown in schools or universities everywhere around the world. A must-watch for everyone. Strongly recommended.