Review of Downfall / Der Untergang


Last month I released a parody video for the film "Downfall" (known as Der Untergang in German.) Having purchased the movie, I also watched it of course, and here is my review. At least in my case, the existence of the parody brought some new sales for the film. There are "spoilers" of a sort in this review, but of course you already know how it ends, indeed as history you may know almost everything that happens in it, though unless you are a detailed student of these events you won't know all of it.

The movie, which deals with Hitler's last days in the bunker, is dark and depressing. And there is the challenge of making some of the nastiest villains of the 20th century be the protagonists. This caused controversy, because people don't like seeing Hitler and his ilk humanized even in the slightest. Hitler in this film is in some ways as you might expect him. Crazy, brutal and nasty. He's also shown being kind to some friends, to Eva, to his dog, his secretaries and a few others. He has to be human or the film becomes just caricature, and not much as a drama. Goebbels gets little humanity, and his wife, who has the most disturbing scene in the film, has a very twisted sort of humanity.

While we have only a limited idea of what Hitler was like at this time, I feel the movie actually still made him a madman caricature. The real Hitler must have been highly charismatic and charming. He inspired people to tremendous loyalty, and got them to do horrible things for him, including taking their own lives at the end as we're shown several times. The Nazis who were recruited by Hitler in his early days all spoke warmly of his charm, but none of this comes through in the film. We don't like to think of him that way.

The movie is told in large part from the viewpoint of Frau Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's private secretaries, who escaped the bunker and died a few years ago. The real Junge appears in the film, apologizing for how she just got caught up in the excitement of being Hitler's secretary, and how she wished she never went down that road. Like all the people who were there, she says she was unaware of what was really going on. Considering she typed Hitler's last testament, where he blames the Jews for the war, and other statements he dictated to her, it's not something she could have been totally unaware of. Junge asks Eva Braun about Hitler's brutality as a contrast to his nicer moods and she explains, "that's when he's being the Führer!" suggesting she compartmentalized the two men, lover and dictator, in two different ways.

During the movie the Soviets are bombing Berlin, and Hitler refuses surrender, in spite of urging from his generals and pleas for the civilians. Even Himmler, whose dastardly evil side is not shown in this film, is the "smart one" encouraging Hitler to leave Berlin, and who "betrays" Hitler in trying to negotiate a surrender. As in any war movie, when you see people being blown up by bombs and shot from their point of view, your instinct is to sympathise, and it's easy to forget it is the allies who are doing the bombing, and the people dying are the ones who stuck with Hitler to the end. Some of them are "innocent," including many of the citizens of Berlin, but many are not. Their loyalty may seem redeeming but they are giving that loyalty (and have reached a level of trust from Hitler) in a world where many in Germany wanted him out, where a number had been executed for plots to be rid of him.

A few Nazis get favourable treatment. Speer, for example. A scene from his memoirs, which is probably false, has Speer telling Hitler that he has disobeyed his "Nero" scorched Earth orders. This scene appears in Speer's later memoirs but is denied in earlier ones, making it likely to be an invented memory. To give Speer credit, of course, he did disobey the orders, and he was the only top Nazi to own up, even partially, for what he did. Junge herself comes off as perfectly innocent and loyal. General Mohnke and SS Doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck (both of whom died moderately recently) get positive treatments.

The most disturbing scene involves Frau Goebbels executing her own children. There are conflicting stories on this, though the one piece of documentation, her last letter, makes it somewhat credible. Movie directors "like" such scenes, as they are incredibly chilling and nightmare-inducing. While Hitler was losing his grip on reality, the others were not, and these horrors are all a result of how much they embraced their bizarre ideology. Frau Goebbels could have sent her children to safety, she felt there was no point in them living in the world that was to come. Still, this scene will give you nightmares, along with a number of other gruesome suicides, even if you know in your mind that the people suiciding have done such incredibly nasty things.

But this is a part of history worth understanding. And it is worth trying to understand -- though we may never do so -- how human beings not as different from us as we would like to believe --could have been such monsters. The movie is well made, and powerful, if depressing and disturbing at the same time.


One of the best films i've ever seen. The thing is people did all these atrocious things not because they were different to everyone else or "evil" (i don't really agree at all with that absurd term)
They were ordinary people just like you and me. Now THAT disturbs me. With the view of hindsight and time we see Hitler as a figure of parody, this is a dangerous and naive view.

It is not impossible to envision your neighbours or people you know acting in social conformist ways to fit in and inflicting harm - psychological or otherwise on persons who don't quite fit in (the loner, the ones with mental disabilities, etc) there is a degree of this in all societies. All it needs is a focus for it to get worse than it is - an ideology or justification from a religious leader or extremist leader.

I agree with you i think Hitler was portrayed somewhat on the side of parody. To be honest he wasn't portrayed as being human enough in the film, but to be honest it was the last few weeks of his life amid the torrid circumstances of the fall of the third reich so he must have been severely unbalanced at the time. Gripping film.

You find evil to be an absurd term, but there are not many in history as well qualified for some extremely negative label as these folks, and what term is better than "evil"? Now it's true that while most of the people who do evil things don't see themselves as evil, and have some other motivation that makes sense to them, there are examples from the Nazi era for which that is not true. For example, in the death camps, they made Jews operate the gas chambers, in exchange for not going in them right away. This was not because it was so hard physically to operate them, it is because they knew that if they did it, even the most dedicated of them, it was tremendously psychologically destructive. So it's not like they didn't know.

We are better than the Nazis, but we're not as much better as we hope to believe, or rather they are not as much worse than us as we would hope to believe.

No i really meant that i don't agree with the term evil. It is unethical or immoral behavior. Most individuals and societies are capable of atrocious acts against others under certain circumstances. These acts are based on social conformity, The need for scapegoats (in a political, psychological and sociological sense) This is based on the dominant idealogy and or struggle between them. So basically you have a situation where responsiblity for indecent acts lies within the individual ultimately not outside as in a Devil or god or whatever you want to call it. Evil and Good are strange terms to me and seem to refer to the age old cliche of Good vs evil in a theological sense. Believing in good and evil to me means an abrogation of personal responsibilty for said actions (ie the devil made me do it) and such ridiculous beliefs in exorcism and possession.

basically evil and good have religious connotations which are instilled in us from childhood, so we use these daft terms willy nilly. Human nature is also an oft used term devoid of rational analysis by most people. What is actually meant by such a term.

Sadly in a lot of societies like Nazi Germany and dozens of others, even to a degree in our own countries there is a continuum of behavior which is negative and people fall somewhere along that line. In certain situations "ordinary" people do extraordinary things due to fear, social conformity or because they actually believe it. The scary thing is - most societies can fall into this at some time or another.

Maybe i haven't explained myself concisely enough or am unable to but Hitler/Stalin et al were atrocious human beings. I don't use the term EVIL ONE because i think it is a bullshit one basically. Human being can be amazing, thoughtful, kind etc for whatever reason. Under the right circumstances they are capable of atrocities. Some can morally draw the line and have an inner strength and self belief to do so against the odds, now that is remarkable also.

All i'm saying is a slight racist comment is on a continuum with what the end result of that comment could turn out to be - gas chambers, forced eviction, ethnic cleansing etc. It comes from within us, or as a group and our illusional belief systems.

It is appropriate to have a highly pejorative word for the worst actions and the worst people. Evil is that word. It doesn't have to be religious. Yes, it gets misused, but whatever the word we pick is, it will be misused.

Whatever human nature is, there is a basic level of treatment towards our fellow humans that we have come to accept in society, and there should be a nasty word for those who knowingly sink far below it.

Well, if evil is a bs word then so is kind and good (which you also seem to have issues with). Good and evil. Kind although not really an antonym for evil is an opposite of evil because kind is one of the aspects of a good person. Your logic here is bizarre. Evil is someone doing atrocious things. In fact the two are direct synonyms and interchangeable. You used the word atrocious. I have known evil people. Yes, there are evil people. Evil as a word is outside of any religious or mythological use or connotation.

It is a word used to describe people and actions that are very bad. There is nothing in the definition of word evil that gives bad people an out for responsibility. You should really go look the word up in a real dictionary and come to grips with your phobia of words. The "Evil One" is different from evil, as it refers to a particular being. Just as the words God of Thunder refers to a particular being. Your taking the word and incorporating it into something else, putting it out of context. Evil may be a person or an event or an action, it is internal to that. The word evil is not an invented word by Judaism or Christianity.

One of the outstanding things in the film is the portrayal of Hitler by Swiss actor
Bruno Ganz. He was nominated for an Oscar, but didn't get it---maybe since it didn't
seem PC to give an Oscar to someone portraying Hitler. Some of this is perhaps lost
on people who don't understand German.

Many people wonder why "ordinary people" go along with evil. Nazi Germany is often used
as an example. Of course, the US "went along with" Guantanamo in that it is still not
closed and even Obama probably won't prosecute anyone involved, although legally he could.
If people can't stand up for what's right even when their own lives aren't in danger, then it
is clear that they won't if their own lives are in danger.

Many people, even some Germans, see a sort of "collective guilt" or at least "collective
responsibility" for present-day Germans, because of evil which happened in the past. Of course,
logically this makes no sense, since one can't be made responsible for the deeds of previous
generations. It is often applied to Germany, though, and rarely to the US, although the
extermination of the Indians (as an Indian said, "Indians call Indians Indians") was genocide
by any reasonable definition. Napoleon is a hero in France, not a despised dictator, and it was
only a couple of days ago that Franco's status as an honorary citizen of Madrid was revoked. No-one
thinks of holding present-day Italians responsible for the deeds of the fascist state of the Roman

I have often said that one of the great achievements of the USA and Canada is that here, "your grandfather killed my grandfather" is of limited importance, where in some parts of the world, they are still fighting battles from hundreds of years ago.

And indeed, I am not responsible for the sins of my ancestors. However, a tougher question is what to do when we are richer because of the sins of our ancestors and the descendants of their victims are poorer. When it's not a case of being about punishing you, but giving back to your parent's victims what was stolen from them.

We tend not to do it, because it's politically and logistically impossible. But is that right?

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