Profound and Powerful
Nothing in history books can open up the same kind of dialogue or have the profound impact that Downfall, a movie about Adolf Hitler, achieves. This film is perhaps too real, too vivid, and too difficult to bear in one sitting. You'll probably want to stop the movie at times, but you'll certainly have to go back to it. It will make you think, be repulsed, horrified and have all kinds of other reactions -- which is the entire point of making this terrific film.
In Downfall, director Oliver Hirschbiegel takes us into the minds of Adolf Hitler and his inner circle. Like nobody before him, Hirschbiegel penetrates the bunkers in which these people lived as well as their mental bunkers, which seem equally as dark, empty, murky, and brooding as the assorted pysches of those who dwell within. This movie tries to get into Hitler's soul in order to discover what drives his evil nature.
Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) serves as our guide on an unflinching and relentless journey, one that's very personal for her. The 22-year-old woman had recently been chosen as Adolf Hitlerís confidential secretary. A job is what she wanted more than anything else, not really thinking about Hitlerís doctrine or the danger she might find herself in later on.
The film is based on Junge's published memoirs and a 2002 documentary called Blind Spot. In clips immediately before and after the movie, the real Junge explains how she wishes she had known about the true crimes of the Nazis and been less in awe of her employer.
Traudl is the only one who questions -- albeit it silently within her own heart -- the motives of Hitler and those around him. Unfortunately, lieutenants and others are pledging loyalty, not knowing the truth. All of them are easily manipulated and brainwashed with beliefs that consume and destroy.
Spurred on by his delusions, Hitler begins to wage a fictional war with troops that were long gone. He sends orders to men who were dead, bellows commands, creates imaginary forces, and hopes for someone to rescue him.
The hardest scenes to watch play themselves out next as followers feel they should die alongside their leader. Magda Goebbels (Corinna Harfouch) takes that view one step further and does the unthinkable as she slips what she calls medicine to five of her six children before her oldest daughter catches on that she is about to be a murder victim. She fights like mad to break free of her mother. But Mrs. Goebbels grabs the girl and rams the liquid down her throat. Who could be so ruthless to do this to their own children? As the youngsters sleep, cyanide capsules are placed under their tongues while their mother forces their teeth to crunch them. Even the coldest hearts will feel outrage and chills from this evil act done to innocent children.
Bruno Ganz, who portrays Hitler, has an incredible ability to show us through movements and expressions just how sick and twisted Hitler really is. We see a physical change in him as the dictator escalates into a madness that foreshadows his unraveling and the overall crisis and panic among himself and his followers.
Scenes filmed outside the bunker show that truth, not Hitler, reigns. The Nazis will not and cannot defend Berlin anymore. They have lost, and this is clearly established for the viewer. Another sequence taking place outside involves Hitlerís final orders being executed by his men.
Alexandra Maria Lara is wonderful as Traudl. She projects a sense of wonderment and innocence. Naive to everything around her, Traudl is conflicted, a young woman teetering between loyalty to her boss and trying to find a way out. Lara gets the point across about how easy it is for someone to be sucked into evil and not be able to escape.
I highly recommend Downfall as required viewing for everyone -- including teenagers -- who cannot fully grasp the evil and atrocities of Hitler, the Holocaust and World War II without a compelling visual experience. This movie takes viewers into Hitler's life and reign of terror as though the events of the past were unfolding right here and right now. DVD extras include interviews, a "making of" featurette and director interview.
(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" for strong violence, disturbing images and some nudity.)