Adolf Hitler. It is a name that echoes in every country throughout the world, and sparks heated discussion on hatred, intolerance, and genocide. It is easy to view Hitler and his commanding officers as monsters, but we seem to forget that they were also people. Downfall tries to remind us of that fact.
April 20, 1945: Adolf Hitler’s 56th birthday. Soviet artillery is bombarding the city of Berlin causing massive casualties for the German army and also civilians. Hitler (Bruno Ganz), his secretaries, and his commanding officers retreat to the Führerbunker with false hopes of holding back the advancing army. These events are seen through the eyes of Hitler’s youngest secretary, Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara). As the days progress and the Soviets push closer, desperation and defeat washes over the monsters of the Nazi party which results in desertion, betrayal, and multiple suicides and murders.
This isn’t the first movie about the final days in the Nazi bunker, but it just so happens to be the one that I have seen. I can’t compare Downfall to any other films of this kind, but I can say that it is a superbly made movie that explores an area of World War II that I’m not very familiar with with historical accuracy and also evokes emotion that I never though I could feel about Adolf Hitler and his close knit subordinates.
This movie is based on multiple historical books written by German historians and Traudl Junge, who was actually in the bunker. It was exciting to know that what I was watching was close to what happened in real life, even after I double checked multiple articles after watching the movie. Seeing a movie that claims to be based on a true story, especially one as incredible as this, and having it turn out to be totally dramatized is upsetting. I’m not saying that none of this movie is dramatized, but it is still very close to truth.
What really was my favorite part about Downfall was how this motley of historical characters were depicted. It is common to watch a movie about World War II and have the Nazis portrayed as soulless and inhuman. This isn’t to say that what they did was anywhere near human or justified, but they are still just men from the same human race as you and me. We get to see their faults and insecurities, along with their mad visions of a perfect National Socialist world. It’s an interesting contrast that mixes up the viewer’s feelings.
The set design and lighting also play a big part in Downfall. The bunker was constructed to mimic the actual Führerbunker, which made maneuvering the camera and lights a challenge for the film makers, so natural lighting was mostly used. This also helped maintain the realistic mood. I can imagine that this would have been a very claustrophobic movie to make considering it was shot in a “bunker” of sorts.
Downfall is destined to be a World War II classic. I can easily say it is one of the best war movies ever made, and might very well be my favorite war movie next to Full Metal Jacket and Saving Private Ryan of course, but that’s a list for another day. For war and history buffs, Downfall will hold your attention for its entire two and a half hour run time. This movie may bore some with its lack of battle scenes and slow, deliberate pace. Personally, I didn’t want the movie to end.