Movie Review: Downfall

As a rule, we see countless pieces of film, game, and novel work emerge every year, all dedicated to the greatest war of all time—WWII. We know how it goes. We know how it ends. But always we see this from the same side—the side of the Allies. But how might it look through the eyes of the Germans? In those final days of the war, as everything fell around them, what did the war look like through their eyes? Downfall presents a haunting, though humanized look at the collapse of a civilization, the crumbling of a government, and the breaking of a people.

Hitler is the main focus of this movie, though Berlin itself is like a secondary character—a living, breathing, dying thing, at once an independent focus, yet also, an extension of Hitler himself. Hitler’s descent into madness and physical disintegration is paralleled by the steady, devastating collapse of Berlin. The city begins, beautiful and vibrant, bathed in the light of day, only to crumble into a desolate world of dust and ash. Everything rots. Everything decays. Fires burn as the world itself reigns down on the former capitol of the Nazi Reich. Yet it rages and struggles on, consuming its people in a desperate and maddening battle that can have no happy end. It is chaos. As Hitler’s mind is, and has so made it.

While centered on the events of the Fuehrer bunker, the movie occasionally cuts to these vivid images of war torn Berlin to give us a view of what the world was like outside, as well as in. One is as mad as the other, though the bunker remains permeated by the sealed, stale air of deception and depression. Everything is pale, diluted, trapping the remnants of a once powerful society with a man that has lost all concept of reality. Some lie to him, some try to convince him otherwise, but in private, everyone knows the truth—yet do nothing about it. Walled in with madness, it spreads like a disease, until all the structure, all the lines of governmental and military order and false composure devolves into a constant state of drunkenness and debauchery, men wallowing in their sorrows, left to forget any way that they can. Everything collapses slowly—physically, mentally, and spiritually.

The movie, at its heart, is about the complete collapse of a people’s being.

And in this, the movie is a powerful, well-constructed look at events. Given that it is written according to accounts by Hitler’s former secretary, it sometimes portrays Hitler in an overly sensitive light, one which is hard to believe. We are made to feel more sympathetic toward some of these figures than they ever could have possibly deserved…but by and large, the movie is still spot-on. The madness and the ruthlessness of these evil men leak through, still, and we never disbelieve them. They are human, the worst part of humanity, but they are human—and this movie masterfully displays the weakness and the darkness of that critical fact. But as startled as we may be to see one of the greatest evils’ in memory depicted as an actual living, breathing human being, this movie comes as close as one can to achieving it, and in such a way that we can, in some odd way, find it believable.

Ganz’ portrayal is breathtaking. It is compelling. It sickens me to ever be able to speak so of a portrayal of Hitler, but here I look at the difference between the actor and the man. The man is evil, a pathetic, wretched example of humanity, but Ganz, the actor, is masterful in his portrayal of him. A joy is, perhaps, not the right word for it, but it is enthralling to watch him.

The cinematography, as well as the acting is powerful, a true beauty to behold.  Many of the special effects—chiefly in the barrages unleashed on Berlin—are not up to the same par many Americans would equate to Hollywood films, perhaps, but these are still well-done, and do not detract from the film itself.

The Gang's all here.

I feel the barbarousness of the Nazis could have been approached a little more strongly in certain points, but in others, the movie is spot on in feeling. It is emotional. It is dramatic. It

is potent. The scenes of Berlin, where soldiers roam, wantonly killing their own people in a useless attempt at order. The scene of mother Goebbels convincing her children to drink themselves to sleep—even forcing one, the child knowing what awaits her—and then using the opportunity of their unconsciousness to feed them cyanide. This is the darkness. And it is powerful, raw, and painful to watch.

This movie is not good. It is not sweet. It is not an easy, half-hearted watch. But Downfall is gripping, and while we may not like what it has to show us, we find ourselves loathe to look away. It compels us to its story, which is masterful in its telling. This is a thing to behold, but you had best be prepared for what you are going to see.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

~ by Chris G. on January 28, 2010.

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