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Downfall

German language poster
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Written by Joachim Fest
Bernd Eichinger
Traudl Junge
Melissa Müller
Starring Bruno Ganz
Alexandra Maria Lara
Corinna Harfouch
Ulrich Matthes
Juliane Köhler
Music by Stephan Zacharias
Cinematography Rainer Klausmann
Editing by Hans Funck
Distributed by Constantin Film
Newmarket Films (English subtitles)
Release date(s) September 16, 2004 (Germany)
February 18, 2005 (USA)
Running time 156 minutes (original cut)
178 minutes (extended cut)
Country Germany
Italy
Austria
Language German
Russian
Budget €13,500,000[1]
Gross revenue $92,180,910[1]

Downfall (German: Der Untergang) is a 2004 German-Austrian epic drama film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, depicting the final ten days of Adolf Hitler's life in his Berlin bunker and Nazi Germany in 1945. The film was written by Bernd Eichinger, and based upon the books: Inside Hitler's Bunker, by historian Joachim Fest; Until the Final Hour, the memoirs of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries; portions of Albert Speer's memoirs Inside the Third Reich; Hitler's Last Days: An Eye–Witness Account, by Gerhardt Boldt; Das Notlazarett Unter Der Reichskanzlei: Ein Arzt Erlebt Hitlers Ende in Berlin (memoirs) by Doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck; and Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936–1949 (memoirs) by Siegfried Knappe.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Contents

Plot

The film begins in East Prussia with a group of German women being escorted to Hitler's compound in Rastenburg so that Hitler can choose another personal secretary. Shortly, the scene shifts to Adolf Hitler's 56th birthday on April 20, 1945. Secretary Traudl Junge is residing in the Führerbunker. Generals Wilhelm Burgdorf and Karl Koller indicate the Soviet Army is just 12 kilometres from the city center. At his birthday reception Hitler resolves to stay in Berlin and rejects any attempt at a diplomatic solution. Certain officers agree that the Führer has lost all sense of reality.

A parallel story is that of Dr. Ernst-Gunther Schenck, an SS medical officer who is ordered by the evacuating high command to leave Berlin, in response to “Operation Clausewitz”. Schenck pleads with a SS general to be allowed to stay in order to take care of the hungry and sick. He tells the general that besides being an SS officer he would be considered a medical doctor with the Wehrmacht which was still in Berlin. The SS general grudgingly allows Schenck to stay in Berlin. Schenck is requested by Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke to bring all the medical supplies he can obtain to the Reich Chancellery. While doing this, Schenck and his adjutant go to a hospital in search of medical supplies. They approach a tank position where a panzer commander informs them that everyone has left the hospital, and to be careful of the Russian troops in the area. Once inside the hospital, Schenck finds a room filled with elderly people. After retrieving what medical supplies were available, Schenck and his adjutant (while en route to the Reich Chancellery) try to prevent the shooting of two old men, but without success. The elderly men were shot by the SS officer leading a group, practicing summary execution on civilians accused of abandoning the final defence of Berlin. A brief standoff ensues. Each group backs away from the other with Schenck and his adjutant making it back to the Reich Chancellary with the medical supplies.

Another parallel story concerns a group of child soldiers (Hitler Youth) in Berlin. A boy in the group is urged by his father to flee with him due to the hopelessness of the situation but the boy refuses. Later this same boy, Peter, is shown in a group that is being awarded Iron Crosses by Hitler for their bravery. Later Hitler discusses his new scorched earth policy with Albert Speer, who begs mercy for the German people, saying that Hitler's plans will return them to the Middle Ages. Hitler claims that the German people have shown themselves too weak and therefore the ones left do not deserve to survive. Later, Eva Braun holds a party for the bunker inhabitants up in the Reich Chancellery, but Soviet artillery fire ends the party early.

In the bunker, Hitler discusses the situation with the generals, believing that Waffen SS General Felix Steiner will save them. However, Steiner cannot mobilize enough men. Upon learning this, Hitler dismisses all except the four highest-ranking generals. He furiously accuses the Wehrmacht of sabotaging him from day one, but acknowledges that the war is lost and states that he would prefer suicide over surrender.

SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke is shown on the front lines with his troops when he observes a group of civilian volunteers running aimlessly to their deaths in the streets. Mohnke asks one of his officers for a situation report. The officer informs him that the civilians are members of the Volkssturm, and they are under direct command of the Minister of Propoganda, Dr. Joseph Goebbels. Mohnke orders the officer to get the Volkssturm out of the line of fire, and states he will take responsibility for doing so.

Mohnke makes his way back to the Reich Chancellery to confront Goebbels about the Volkssturm. Goebbels is in the bunker communications room talking to his wife Magda Goebbels. Goebbels tells his wife to bring the children to the bunker and not to bring many toys or nightwear, that it is no longer necessary. Thereafter, Mohnke tells Goebbels that the Volkssturm are easy prey for the Russians. When confronted with this, Goebbels is angered and tells Mohnke that their belief in “final victory” makes up for their lack of weapons and combat experience. Mohnke tells Goebbels that if these men do not have weapons their deaths are pointless. Goebbels informs Mohnke that he has no pity for them, for the German people brought this fate upon themselves.

Later Hitler, Eva, Junge, and Gerda discuss various means of suicide. Hitler proposes shooting oneself through the mouth, while Braun mentions taking cyanide. Hitler gives Gerda and Junge one cyanide capsule each. Eva Braun and Magda Goebbels type goodbye letters, Braun to her sister and Goebbels to her adult son (from her former marriage) Harald Quandt.

The child soldiers fight in the streets of Berlin, but to no avail. The young boy, Peter, witnesses the death of all his squad mates and later flees home to his parents, only to find that they have been murdered.

General Wilhelm Keitel is ordered to find Admiral Karl Dönitz, who Hitler believes is gathering troops in the north, and help him plan an offensive to recover the Romanian oilfields. Oberscharführer Rochus Misch, Hitler's radio operator, receives a telegram from Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe. Martin Bormann reads the telegram to Hitler, where Göring asks permission to assume command of the Reich and asks for acknowledgment by 10 pm, at which time he will assume authority in the absence of a response. Considering this treason, Hitler orders Göring's arrest and removal from office.

General Weidling reports that the Russians have broken through everywhere. There are no reserves and air support has ceased. Brigadeführer Mohnke reports that the Red Army is only 300 to 400 meters from the Reich Chancellery and that defending forces can hold out for a day or two at most. Before leaving, Hitler reassures the officers that General Walther Wenck will save them all.

On Hitler's wedding day, Traudl takes dictation of the Führer's political testament. Hitler has ordered Joseph Goebbels to leave Berlin, but Goebbels intends to ignore the order. Hitler marries Eva Braun. When Günsche later brings a reply from Keitel that the main armies are encircled or cannot continue their assault, Hitler states that he will never surrender. He also forbids all officers to surrender. Upon leaving the conference room Hitler gives Günsche the order to cremate his body and that of Eva Braun after their death.

Eva Braun has her last conversation with Traudl. She gives her one of her best coats and advises her to escape. Hitler has his final meal in silence with Constanze Manziarly and his secretaries. He bids farewell to the bunker staff, gives Magda Goebbels his Golden Party Badge (marking original members of the NSDAP from February 27, 1925 to November 9, 1933, with numbers 1 to 100,000), and retires to his room with Eva Braun. Despite Magda Goebbels' pleas, the pair commit suicide. Rather than live in a world without Nazism, Herr and Frau Goebbels poison their children and commit suicide themselves. All the bodies are burned outside the bunker complex.

Most of the bunker survivors attempt to escape, but die at the hands of Red Army infantrymen. Junge makes her way through the Russian lines. Junge escapes from Berlin by bicycle along with Peter from the group of child soldiers. The fates of the film's main surviving characters are shown, then the credits roll.

Cast

Reception

While treatment of the Third Reich is still a sensitive subject among many Germans even 60 years after World War II, the film broke one of the last remaining taboos by its depiction of Adolf Hitler in a central role by a German speaking actor (as opposed to using actual film footage of Hitler). Ganz did four months of research to prepare for the role, studying a recording of Hitler in private conversation with Finnish Field Marshal Mannerheim, in order to properly mimic Hitler's conversational voice, and distinct Austrian accent.[2]

The film's impending release in 2004 provoked a debate in German film magazines and newspapers. The tabloid Bild asked "Are we allowed to show the monster as a human being?"

Concern about the film's depiction of Hitler led New Yorker film critic David Denby to note:[3]

As a piece of acting, Ganz's work is not just astounding, it's actually rather moving. But I have doubts about the way his virtuosity has been put to use. By emphasizing the painfulness of Hitler's defeat Ganz has [...] made the dictator into a plausible human being. Considered as biography, the achievement (if that's the right word) [...] is to insist that the monster was not invariably monstrous — that he was kind to his cook and his young female secretaries, loved his German shepherd, Blondi, and was surrounded by loyal subordinates. We get the point: Hitler was not a supernatural being; he was common clay raised to power by the desire of his followers. But is this observation a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did?
[3]

With respect to German uneasiness about "humanizing" Hitler, Denby said:

A few journalists in [Germany] wondered aloud whether the "human" treatment of Hitler might not inadvertently aid the neo-Nazi movement. But in his many rants in [the film] Hitler says that the German people do not deserve to survive, that they have failed him by losing the war and must perish — not exactly the sentiments […] that would spark a recruitment drive. This Hitler may be human, but he's as utterly degraded a human being as has ever been shown on the screen, a man whose every impulse leads to annihilation.
[3]

After previewing the film, Hitler biographer Sir Ian Kershaw wrote in The Guardian:[4]

Knowing what I did of the bunker story, I found it hard to imagine that anyone (other than the usual neo-Nazi fringe) could possibly find Hitler a sympathetic figure during his bizarre last days. And to presume that it might be somehow dangerous to see him as a human being — well, what does that thought imply about the self-confidence of a stable, liberal democracy? Hitler was, after all, a human being, even if an especially obnoxious, detestable specimen. We well know that he could be kind and considerate to his secretaries, and with the next breath show cold ruthlessness, dispassionate brutality, in determining the deaths of millions.

Of all the screen depictions of the Führer, even by famous actors, such as Alec Guinness or Anthony Hopkins, this is the only one which to me is compelling. Part of this is the voice. Ganz has Hitler's voice to near perfection. It is chillingly authentic.

[4]

Addressing other critics like Denby, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote:[5]

Admiration I did not feel. Sympathy I felt in the sense that I would feel it for a rabid dog, while accepting that it must be destroyed. I do not feel the film provides 'a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did, because I feel no film can, and no response would be sufficient. As we regard this broken and pathetic Hitler, we realize that he did not alone create the Third Reich, but was the focus for a spontaneous uprising by many of the German people, fueled by racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear. He was skilled in the ways he exploited that feeling, and surrounded himself by gifted strategists and propagandists, but he was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil. It is useful to reflect that racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear are still with us, and the defeat of one of their manifestations does not inoculate us against others.
[5]

Hirschbiegel confirmed that the film's makers sought to give Hitler a three-dimensional personality.

We know from all accounts that he was a very charming man — a man who managed to seduce a whole people into barbarism.
[6]

The film was nominated for the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the 77th Academy Awards. The film also won the 2005 BBC Four World Cinema competition.[7]

The film is set mostly in and around the Führerbunker. Hirschbiegel made an effort to accurately reconstruct the look and atmosphere of the bunker through eyewitness accounts, survivors' memoirs and other historical sources. According to his commentary on the DVD, Der Untergang was filmed in Berlin, Munich, and in a district of Saint Petersburg, Russia, which, with its many buildings designed by German architects, was said to resemble many parts of 1940s Berlin.

Criticism

The author Giles MacDonogh criticised the film for sympathetic portrayals of Wilhelm Mohnke and Ernst-Günther Schenck. Mohnke was rumoured, but never proven, to have ordered the execution of a group of P.O.W.s in Normandy, while Schenck's experiments with medicinal plants in 1938 allegedly led to the deaths of a number of concentration camp prisoners.[8] In answer to this criticism, the film's director, in the DVD commentary, stated he did his own research and did not find the allegations as to Schenck to be convincing. Furthermore, Mohnke strongly denied the accusations against him, telling author Thomas Fischer, "I issued no orders not to take English prisoners or to execute prisoners."[9]

Wim Wenders called the filmmakers' collaboration with a history professor as "a strategic move to compile cultural capital and move the film beyond the reach of reprehensibility, challenge, or contradiction by writers or critics unwilling to engage the material other than by pointing out historical inaccuracies." He felt that the film said: "Wir wissen, wovon wir reden" ("We know what we're talking about"). Further, Wenders argued that Der Untergang clearly presented an uncritical viewpoint toward the barbarism of its subject matter, and accused the filmmakers of Verharmlosung (rendering harmlessness). Wenders supported this observation with close readings of the film's first scene, and of Hitler's final scene, suggesting that in each case a particular set of cinematographic and editorial choices left each scene emotionally charged, resulting in a glorifying effect.[10]

The film's ending has also been the subject of criticism for not revealing what actually happened to several of the women who were present in the bunker. After the fall of Berlin an estimated 2 million German women were raped by the Soviets. In the film, the women manage to escape or are seemingly left unharmed when the Soviet soldiers arrive, whereas in reality several of the women were raped, some gang raped, and brutalized by the Soviet soldiers. Gerda Christian, Traudl Junge, Else Krüger and Constanze Manziarly, together with others, left the bunker on May 1 under SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke's leadership. This group slowly made its way north hoping to link up with a German army holdout on the Prinzenallee. The group, hiding in a cellar, was captured by the Soviets on the morning of May 2. Like millions of other German women,[11] Gerda Christian and Else Krüger were raped by soldiers of the Red Army. For these two women it was apparently in the woods near Berlin.[12] According to author James O'Donnell of The Bunker, Junge was also raped. However, Junge herself never mentioned this in her autobiography.[13]

While the film states that Manziarly vanished in 1945, Junge recounts her being taken into an U-Bahn tunnel by two Soviet soldiers, reassuring the group that "They want to see my papers." She was never seen again.[14]

Parodies

One scene in the film, in which Hitler launches into a furious tirade upon finally realizing that the war is truly lost, has become a staple of internet viral videos. In these wildly anachronistic videos, the original audio of Ganz's voice is retained, but new subtitles are added so that he now seems to be reacting instead to some setback in present-day politics, sports, popular culture, etc. One parody depicted Hitler flying into a rage in response to being banned from Xbox Live [15]. This video accumulated a vast number of YouTube views and was posted on video game related sites, including IGN, Joystiq, and Kotaku.

One video released during the 2008 American presidential campaign imagined Hitler as Hillary Clinton, enraged by Barack Obama's victories over her in presidential primaries; in February 2009 the New York Times described this as the best-known of these videos within the United States.[16] Another video featured Hitler as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, outraged over the NDP–Liberal Coalition.[17]

In February 2009, a Downfall parody video protesting parking problems in Tel Aviv, Israel sparked a heated debate with Holocaust survivors about the legitimacy of jokes involving Hitler and the Nazi regime.[18]

By 2010, there were hundreds of such parodies, including one in which Hitler is incensed that people keep making Downfall parodies.[19]

The film's director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, spoke positively about these parodies in a 2010 interview with New York magazine, saying that many of them were funny and they were a fitting extension of the film's purpose: "The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality. I think it's only fair if now it's taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like."[20]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b "DOWNFALL". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=downfall.htm. 
  2. ^ Diver, Krysia and Moss, Stephen (March 25, 2003). "Desperately seeking Adolf". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2005/mar/25/1. Retrieved February 6, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c Denby, David (February 14, 2005). "David Denby's comments on Der Untergang". The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/critics/cinema/?050214crci_cinema. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Kershaw, Ian (September 17, 2004). "The human Hitler". The Guardian. http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,4120,1306616,00.html. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (March 11, 2005). "Downfall". Chicago Sun-Times. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050310/REVIEWS/50222002/1023. 
  6. ^ Eckardt, Andy (September 16, 2004). "Film showing Hitler's soft side stirs controversy". NBC News. MSNBC. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6019248/from/RL.1/. 
  7. ^ "Downfall wins BBC world film gong". BBC. January 26, 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4652074.stm. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  8. ^ MacDonogh, Giles; Henrik Eberle, Igor Saleyev, Otto Gunsche, Heinz Linge, Joseph Stalin, Fyodor Parparov (October 30, 2005). "xviii". in Matthias Uhl. The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossier Prepared For Stalin From The Interrogations of Hitler's Personal Aides (Hardcover ed.). PublicAffairs. p. 370. ISBN 1586483668. 
  9. ^ Fischer, Thomas. Soldiers of the Leibstandarte, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. 2008, p 26.
  10. ^ Wenders, Wim (October 21, 2004). "Tja, dann wollen wir mal". Die Zeit. http://www.zeit.de/2004/44/Untergang_n?. Retrieved July 5, 2009. (German)
  11. ^ Hanna Schissler The Miracle Years: A Cultural History of West Germany, 1949-1968
  12. ^ The Bunker, James Preston O'Donnell, Da Capo Press, 2001, ISBN 0306809583 page 211
  13. ^ The Bunker, James Preston O'Donnell, Da Capo Press, 2001, ISBN 0306809583 page 293
  14. ^ Until the Final Hour. Google. http://books.google.com/books?id=ie1FsnzQkfUC&pg=PA219&dq=Constanze+Manziarly+just+want+to+see+my+papers. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  15. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (October 24, 2008). "The Hitler Meme". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/26/magazine/26wwln-medium-t.html. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  16. ^ Mackey, Robert (2009-02-18). "Israeli Hitler Parody Upsets Holocaust Survivors". The New York Times. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/israeli-hitler-parody-outrages-holocaust-survivors/. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  17. ^ Moscovitch, Philip (March 31, 2009). "Hitler's downfall, parodied". The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/article703090.ece. Retrieved July 8, 2009. 
  18. ^ Lefkovits, Etgar (February 17, 2009). "Holocaust Survivor Groups Protest". The Jerusalem Post. http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1233304810702&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  19. ^ Boutin, Paul (February 25, 2010), "Video Mad Libs With the Right Software", The New York Times: B10, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/technology/personaltech/25basics.html?scp=1&sq=Downfall&st=cse, retrieved 2010-02-26 
  20. ^ Rosenblum, Emma (January 15, 2010). "The Director of Downfall Speaks Out on All Those Angry YouTube Hitlers". New York. http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/01/the_director_of_downfall_on_al.html. Retrieved January 16, 2010. 

Bibliography

External links


Simple English

Downfall
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Written by Joachim Fest
Bernd Eichinger
Traudl Junge
Melissa Müller
Starring Bruno Ganz
Alexandra Maria Lara
Corinna Harfouch
Ulrich Matthes
Juliane Köhler
Music by Stephan Zacharias
Cinematography Rainer Klausmann
Editing by Hans Funck
Distributed by Constantin Film
Newmarket Films (English subtitles)
Release date(s) September 16, 2004 (Germany)
February 18, 2005 (USA)
Running time 156 minutes (original cut)
178 minutes (extended cut)
Country Germany
Italy
Austria
Language German
Russian
Budget €13,500,000[1]
Gross revenue $92,180,910[2]

Downfall (German: Der Untergang) is a 2004 film that is about the final days of Adolf Hitler, a Nazi dictator of Germany, in the Führerbunker. It is set in Berlin, Germany, in 1945.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Cast

  • Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler
  • Alexandra Maria Lara as Traudl Junge
  • Juliane Köhler as Eva Braun
  • Thomas Kretschmann as SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein
  • Christian Redl as Generaloberst Alfred Jodl
  • Corinna Harfouch as Magda Goebbels
  • Ulrich Matthes as Joseph Goebbels
  • Heino Ferch as Albert Speer
  • André Hennicke as SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke
  • Ulrich Noethen as Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler
  • Christian Berkel as Ernst-Günther Schenck

References









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