Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Starring: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Kohler, and Heino Ferch
Berlin: April, 1945.
With the Russian Army approaching and overtaking Berlin, Adolf Hitler (Ganz) and many in the upper regiment of the Nazi Party spend the final days of World War II in the Führerbunker. Based on the accounts of Traudl Junge (Lara), one of his secretaries, it shows the final downfall of the Nazi Party and the Western Theater of World War II.
A film like this is difficult to gauge. The content matter itself is tricky. A criticism of Downfall is how it humanizes Hitler in a way that the Final Solution isn’t addressed. It somewhat makes sense though since this is the final week of the war.
I’d find taking a role in this film could be a kiss of death to someone’s career. Ganz took a tremendous risk with this, but he thoroughly researched his role and performed in such a way that Hitler historians thought he accurately portrayed the Fuhrer in his final days. He remained defiant to the end, ultimately believing he would not be defeated. Thankfully he was. Alexandra Maria Lara does a good job of playing Hitler’s young and naive secretary. Juliane Kohler also does well as Hitler’s girlfriend, Eva Braun.
There is also a sense of loyalty in this film that reminds me to an extent of Letters From Iwo Jima. As the Japanese soldiers killed themselves if they didn’t keep their post, a number of Nazis in this film killed themselves when they knew they had lost and Hitler had committed suicide. It’s unfortunate, especially in the case of Magda (Harfouch) and Joseph Goebbels (Matthes). Though Joseph was a chief propaganda officer and his wife was a devout loyal Nazi, they didn’t need to kill their kids. That’s just wrong in so many ways.
The film starts and ends with Junge expressing her regret over her role as Hitler’s secretary. While she says she justified her role at the time, she wasn’t aware of the killing of the Jews, in the end she said that was no excuse. I’m glad those clips were included in the film. Junge died in 2002, the same year her autobiography Until the Final Hour was released. Accounts such as hers are important to have. They are the firsthand accounts that are being lost as these people die.
Given its historical content, Downfall is a movie that’s an uphill battle from the word go. A strength of this movie is Ganz’s portrayal of the Nazi Dictator. This film certainly won’t change people’s’ minds about the man and what he did, no film can. It does, however, do a small part in humanizing Hitler: he was kind to his secretaries and cook and cared for his dog Blondi. He had, in the end, lost his mind, and I think Ganz does a good job of balancing and portraying the humanistic and crazy sides of Hitler in the final days of World War II.
This is not a movie I will see again, but these types of movies need to be made. People need to know about our history, otherwise we’ll only be doomed to repeat it.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.