Summer 2010 was a terrible season for movies. The only movie Bonnie and I remember seeing at a theater was Toy Story 3, which we enjoyed. Looking at the dismal listings in the newspaper this summer, we sometimes questioned whether we had turned into old folks who don't like anything contemporary, but we just have to look at our DVDs-to-see list to see that this is not true. We have a growing list of films that did not appear at our suburban theaters. Most are independent or foreign films, and it sometimes takes us years to make time to see them. This past weekend we finally saw Downfall, a 2005 German film about Adolf Hitler's final days.
I think that I have a good grasp of history, but Downfall challenged some of my "I never really thought about it" assumptions. When I hear the word "bunker," I think of small concrete enclosure built into a hillside or on the cliffs over a beach. Hitler's bunker in central Berlin was a huge fortified basement, which seemed to have had multiple entries and a vast network of rooms. I also assumed that Hitler had a small number of important people with him. In Downfall, he is surrounded by scores of military leaders, other advisors, aids, secretaries, Eva Braun and even the family of Joseph Goebbels. Many of these people are sitting around with nothing to do but listen to their Fuhrer describe impossible military tactics utilizing nonexistent troops and scream about how his generals had betrayed him. The cast is huge, and I found identifying every character difficult, but I am not complaining. Downfall seems an realistic depiction of the chaos and confusion of the last days of Nazi Germany.
Viewers who enjoy great acting should try Downfall. Bruno Ganz is mesmerizing as Adolf Hitler, a complex character who can be gentle with a child one moment and raving to his aids about how the German people have let him down the next. Corinna Harfouch is memorable (will I have nightmares?) as Magda Goebbels, the mother who "loves her children so much" that she will not let them live in a world without National Socialism. The rest of the cast is excellent, too. After viewing the film I was surprised to learn it was 155 minutes. I had never tired of following the many-facetted story.
If you are like me, you'll need to talk to someone after the film, which was based on the books Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich by Joachim Fest and Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary by Traudl Junge and Melissa Mueller. I recommend the for discussion groups.
Downfall. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, . ISBN 140498760.