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Posted on Apr 21, 2005 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Downfall (aka Der Untergang) – Movie Review

Armchair General

And yet despite the obvious insanity of such statements, and the sheer impossibility of maintaining a coherent defence, let alone launching any kind of counter-attack, Hitler’s Generals find themselves torn between a desire to survive and their sworn oath to the Fuhrer. Despite the hopelessness of the situation, many Generals simply refuse to surrender "I went through that in 1918 and once is enough!" declares one, perhaps explaining to some degree why the German Army continued to fight against hopeless odds towards the end of the war in Europe.


Picture taken from the official website, amidst the ruins of Berlin, the Nazis continue their militaristic traditions.


The insanity of the Bunker is not limited to Hitler himself. On the day of the Fuhrer’s 56th birthday, despite Russian shells pounding the centre of Berlin and the knowledge that they are all going to die, Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun (Juliane Kohler), decides to throw a party in the ruins of the Chancellery above the Bunker. The incongruity of this scene is emphasised even further as the film immediately switches to a discussion between Hitler and his partner about the best way to commit suicide.

Later in the film, we see the six children of Josef and Magda Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch) entertain the residents of the Bunker in an impromptu singing session, like some bizarre version of the Von Trapp family singers. Only later do we realise the duplicity and evil of the children’s mother as she cold-bloodedly poisons them in their drug-induced sleep on the basis that she does not want her children to grow up in a world without National Socialism, The Director makes us endure these deaths one by one, showing the crime in its entirety instead of merely by implication. Knowing that these events really happened makes this one of the most horrific and disturbing scenes I have ever seen in cinema.

Goebbels himself dismisses the inadequacy of the volunteer reserve, the Volkssturm, by announcing that this is compensated by their "fervent belief in victory" – as if sheer willpower alone will overcome the Bolshevik hordes assaulting their bastion.


Picture taken from the official website, amongst other scenes, the film recreates Hitler’s last foray into the outside world to award medals to the pathetic remnants of his shattered armies.

The film has a certain documentary-style feel to it, with excellent use of Steadicam, especially during the briefing scenes with Hitler and his Generals, making the viewer feel as if they are watching real recorded events unfolding before them.

The claustrophobia of the Bunker is heightened by the flickering lights and the constant rumble of heavy artillery that permeates nearly every scene. The scenery rattles and shakes with every explosion and the hopelessness and despair of the residents of the Bunker becomes more apparent with every scene as the death toll mounts and the Russian guns get closer.

The exterior scenes too are wonderfully depicted – with massive explosions and the rattle of gunfire filling the air as the fraught defenders and civilians within Berlin try to survive and fight back against overwhelming odds. Danger lies behind every corner and although the battle scenes are short and the enemy hardly seen, the film depicts war as a terrifying, brutal ordeal. Meanwhile, lynch mobs round up suspected collaborators and hang them in the streets with placards to warn others of betraying the cause to the Communists.

Hitler’s final scenes in Downfall show him resigned to his fate, apparently unwilling to escape Berlin and having seen all of his major compatriots betray him one by one. His eventual demise prompts many of those around him to make their final decisions – either to honour their oath to him and continue the fight (or even simply kill themselves), or to look forward to the future. Ultimately, despite the carnage and the chaos, the future is shown to have a bright potential.

As a depiction of the end of the evil Nazi regime, I thoroughly recommend Downfall to any student of World War II, or history in general covering, as it does, one of the major pivotal points in history. English-speakers may be daunted by the fact that this two and a half-hour film is in German with English subtitles, but this is preferable to a dubbed version. This is, without a doubt, one of the best films it has been my privilege to view.

Downfall is rated "R" in the US and "15" in the UK.


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Official Website

A J Summersgill

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