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Downfall ( ) is a 2004 German-Austrian drama film, depicting the final ten days of Adolf Hitler's life in his Berlin bunkermarker and Nazi Germany in 1945. The film was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, 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.

Plot

The film begins in East Prussia with a group of German women being escorted to Hitler's compound in Rastenburgmarker so that Hitler could 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 Führerbunkermarker. 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 SSmarker 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 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 Chancellerymarker. 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 in route to the Reich Chancellery) try to prevent the shooting of two old men, but without success. The elderly men were shot by the leader of a group of Greifs-Kommandos. A brief standoff ensues. Each group backs away from the other and Schenck and his adjutant make 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 Reich Chancellerymarker 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, whom Hitler believes is gathering troops in the north, and help him plan an offensive to recover the Romanianmarker 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 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 27 February 1925 to 9 November 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, before 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 Austrianmarker accent.

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:

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

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

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

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

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 4 World Cinema competition.

The film is set mostly in and around the Führerbunkermarker. 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, Munichmarker, and in a district of Saint Petersburgmarker, Russiamarker, which, with its many buildings designed by German architects, was said to resemble many parts of 1940s Berlin.

Authenticity

The young boy in the Iron Cross ceremony outside of Hitler’s bunker on or around mid-April 1945, is identified in the movie as Peter Kranz. The boy that is being depicted is actually named Alfred Czech. There is controversy around his exact actions after the awards ceremony. In the film it shows Peter Kranz returning to the front lines to fight the advancing Soviet army. The boy is shown running with a Panzerfaust from a German position. When Peter is faced with the death of several of his comrades, he falls asleep in an artillery crater. Once the boy realizes that all hope is lost for Germany, he returns home to his father and mother. Another point of controversy is also exactly what Hitler said to the young boy. In the film he asks the boy, “So you’re Peter? I wish my generals were as brave as you.” In an interview with Czech conducted by Independent magazine in the United Kingdom, there is no mention of this conversation.

Uniforms worn in the film

German oak and green leaf camouflage tunics, smocks and helmet covers, can be seen worn by many of the soldiers throughout the movie. This uniform was issued in particular to units of the Waffen SS, however, in the movie it appears to be worn by SS and Wehrmacht-Heer soldiers alike. Several of the soldiers in the movie are wearing the uniform of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). This division was the only unit in the Wehrmacht or Waffen SS allowed to wear the name of Adolf Hitler on the division cuff band of their tunic. Soldiers wearing this insignia would include, Brigadeführer Mohnke, Sturmbannführer Otto Günsche and Oberscharführer Rochus Misch.

Suicide in the film

In the film there is a large emphasis on suicide with several of the main characters committing suicide or contemplating suicide. This epidemic has been accurately portrayed in the film, it is estimated that at one point during the latter part of the war approximately five and a half million Germans and Nazis alike either commited or considered commiting suicide. How many of these resulted in death by suicide is not accurately known (Usborne).

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. 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."

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.

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, 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. According to author James O'Donnell of The Bunker, Junge was also raped. However, Junge herself never mentioned this in her autobiography.

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.

Parodies

The scene depicting Hitler's furious outburst to his generals when he realizes that the war is lost has become a staple of internet viral videos. Ganz's voice remains in the videos, but subtitles show him talking about some setback in politics, sports or video games. The original parody was about Hitler getting banned from Xbox Live; the video gained a massive amounts of views on YouTube and was posted on video game related sites including IGN, Joystiq, and Kotaku. At one point the most popular video showed Hitler in character as Hillary Clinton denouncing Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 U.S. Democratic Party presidential primary campaign. Another video featured Hitler as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper outraged over the NDP-Liberal Coalition. In February 2009, a Downfall parody video protesting parking issues in Tel Avivmarker, Israelmarker sparked a heated debate with Holocaust survivors about the legitimacy of jokes involving Hitler and the Nazi regime. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was also cast as Hitler in parodies of political developments in the United Kingdommarker, including a by-election in Glasgow East.

Another approach is dubbing the scene with dialog from other films. The Star Trek fan page was surprised to see Hitler claiming to be Borg, in a speech from the Star Trek: First Contact film.

Bibliography

  • (studies about the Film)
  • Fischer, Thomas. "Soldiers Of the Leibstandarte." J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc., 2008. ISBN 978-0-921991-91-5.


See also



References

  1. Fischer, Thomas. Soldiers of the Leibstandarte, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. 2008, p 26.
  2. Hanna Schissler The Miracle Years: A Cultural History of West Germany, 1949-1968
  3. The Bunker, James Preston O'Donnell, Da Capo Press, 2001, ISBN 0306809583 page 211
  4. The Bunker, James Preston O'Donnell, Da Capo Press, 2001, ISBN 0306809583 page 293
  5. Retrieved October 2, 2009.


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