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Downfall (2004)

Cast: Bruno Ganz, Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, more...
Director: Olivier Hirschbiegel, Olivier Hirschbiegel
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Studio: Columbia TriStar
Genre: Drama, Foreign, Biopics, Germany
Running Time: 155 min.
Languages: German
Subtitles: English
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The last ten days of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime are seen through the eyes of a young woman in his employ in this historical drama from Germany. Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) was 22 years old when, in the fall of 1942, she was hired to be personal secretary to Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz). In April of 1945, Junge was still working for Hitler as forces were bearing down on Germany and the leader retreated to a secret bunker in Berlin for what would prove to be the last ten days of his life, as well as that of the Third Reich. As Hitler's mistress Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler) attempts to throw a cheerful birthday party for her man, Hitler's closest associates, including Heinrich Himmler (Ulrich Noethen), Joseph Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes), and Albert Speer (Heino Ferch), urge him to flee the city with only Goebbels maintaining any illusions that the Third Reich has any hope of survival. Hitler refuses to leave Berlin, and he spends his final days ranting and raving to Junge, blaming all around him as he tries to understand where his leadership went wrong. Meanwhile, Goebbels and his wife round up their six children and bring them to the bunker as Berlin begins to topple, determined to take their lives rather than face the Allies after Germany's certain defeat. Der Untergang (aka The Downfall) was based in part on the memoirs of the real-life Traudl Junge, whose experiences also formed the basis of the 2002 documentary Im Toten Winkel: Hitlers Sekretarin (aka Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary). ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Human, All Too Human by RJones3 October 30, 2007 - 9:54 AM PDT
1 out of 6 members found this review helpful
The history of wars, as we know, is written by the victors. It is presumptuous of the Germans to attempt to write their own history. How can they possibly get it right? We don't want to know that there was suffering on the other side. If there was, it was only deserved. And this business about dedicated, brave German soldiers--have they forgotten that they were the enemy? As for Hitler, everybody knows he was crazy. His brand of politics went beyond the most ruthless of neocons, and the Nietzschean poison he spouted would be an embarrassment to any modern-day undergraduate. To portray him and his followers as human beings is an insult to every theatergoer. We know that they were not superhuman, whatever their demented ideology claimed. Finally, there is the story itself, told with dramatic coherence in unflinching detail. It must be true. It is too horrible to believe.

If only Hitler had a pony... by dropjohnson August 19, 2005 - 2:17 PM PDT
3 out of 10 members found this review helpful
Hitler had a dog, a German Shepard (oh how typical) named Blondi. He loved his dog and was very kind to it (Blondi's sex is not revealed in the film). He was also very loving toward Eva Braun and his secretary, Traudl Junge. For the better part of Der Untertag, a film about those last halcyon days of the Third Reich in which they were cloistered in the bunker where Hitler and several other key Reich figures would ultimately meet their self-imposed ends, Hitler is portrayed a bi-polar hunchback. He smiles sweetly at Braun only seconds before flying into a rage, pounding on a map of Berlin, strategizing movements for long dead and/or defunct platoons of soldiers, and ordering one or more of his general's executed for treason. There is a school of thought that Hitler should never ever be humanized to any degree and should instead remain a monolithic boogeyman. Such thinking is flawed to an alarming degree. It exists only to forward the notion that Hitler was an aberration who invented genocide and that it died with him. Sorry, hon. He wasn't the first or last, just the best. To better understand Hitler is to perhaps better prevent the next Idi Amin or Slobodan Milosevic. The trouble with the film is that we get only one scene of Hitler from 1942 when he seems much less like a yammering fruit bat and none from prior to the war. He pet his dog, cared for his girlfriend, and complimented his underlings. Okay? I never imagined that weren't moments of Adolf's life where he was wonderful company. I'm certain at some point in time he gave a cute kid a lollipop and helped and old woman across a busy Berlin intersection. Are we then to conclude that enthusiasm for one's dog and vegetarianism are precursors to genocidal megalomania? Two and a half hours and, "Guess what, Hitler had a dog!" is what we get for our investment.

The film's greatest success lies in its portrayal of Hitler's acolytes, who, aside from Mr. and Mrs. Goebbels, seem to be taken aback by the sudden realization that their Fuhrer is a skosh of kilter. Most continue, despite this cognition, to follow Hitler all the way down in flames because, in the words of Magda Gobles, "Without National Socialism, there is no future." The film would have done a greater service had it kept Hitler as a periphery character (or perhaps even a specter, always just off camera but never seen) and focused instead on the dilemma of his loyal zealots, some of whom have come abruptly to the realization that the war has turned irrevocably against them and that very soon they will be held culpable for their actions and inactions, and others who would rather face a bullet from their own gun than confront these realities. There are interesting notions offered of the national fervor that swallowed up all of those who chose to align themselves with the Nazi party and a suggestion of condemnation of those who disapproved but whose abeyance acted as a form of tacit approval. These ideas are raised but abandoned. What will be remembered most of all is Hitler flailing maniacally, which leads only to the ultimate conclusion that Hitler used to flail maniacally.

Perhaps the greatest miscalculation is the amount of sympathy Downfall attempts to garner for dead and dying Nazis. I know that the loss of human life is tragic and all of that but I have trouble drumming up much sadness when a member of the SS bites it. In fact, I had to refrain the entire movie from audibly rooting for the Russian soldiers advancing day by day in an ever-constricting circle on the bunker. I was able to dredge up real sympathy only in two instances (I suppose these are spoilers so stop reading if you don't wanna know): one in which poor Blondi is forced by Hitler to display its commitment to National Socialism and a second in which the little Goebbels children (who are oddly reminiscent of the Von Trapp kiddies from the Sound of Music) are tricked by their parents into ingesting a sedative (you can probably guess what happens next). For a hundred and fifty-five minute film about the collapse of the Nazi party there are few allusions to the Holocaust. In fact, there are only three actual mentions with just one of those coming in the course of the film (at the end there is a footnote that, oh by the way, six million Jews died in some camps). The loss is measured entirely in terms of German casualties. And not only is it solely German casualties, but that of SS and Reich officers. Should I get misty at the thought of Himmler' death? Junge is something of the film's moral center, if there is such a thing in a film about the Third Reich. It is bookended with interviews from the actual Junge before her death in 2002. In the end of Downfall she escapes through the advancing Russian line and is excused from her involvement because of her relative youth (though she is in her mid-twenties and I can't quite understand what makes her anymore of a youth than the twenty year old soldiers on the front lines). Her escape is presented with a dramatic weight that is not and cannot be earned. It is a good thing that someone survived to present a portrait of those final days but the life of a single person who collaborated with and admired Hitler holds precious little gravity in the face of fifty million corpses.

History by talltale August 8, 2005 - 8:49 PM PDT
8 out of 9 members found this review helpful
Maybe the best--certainly the longest--"Hitler" movie (fictionalized, narrative-type, that is) that I've seen, DOWNFALL is fascinating for a majority of its running time. The non-fiction account--"Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary"--is better in most ways, but, being a documentary, it was little seen. A few too many clichés dampened my enthusiasm now and then; they particularly pile up as the end approaches. However, Bruno Ganz is terrific as Hitler. Yes, he humanizes the guy, but Adolf comes up a loony nonetheless--and rightly so.

One of the strong points of the film is that most of the Germans at the top became loony (or were already). How else could the country have come to the place it did? I would think that Americans watching this movie might reflect on their own country at this juncture: who we are, and why our own government (and by extension, all of us) is behaving in such a loony manner. But then Americans didn't bother with "Downfall," an enormous hit throughout Europe but barely seen here. What's history, anyway? Just something we're doomed to repeat, should we not learn from it. Nowhere near perfect, "Downfall" is still a damned good learning lesson, with which we might begin.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.66)
122 Votes
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