Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Movie Review: "Downfall".

I just saw "Downfall". It's not a documentary of the Lakers' season.

It's a movie that focuses on the Third Reich's collapse in the Spring of 1945. Most of the film is set in Hitler's bunker. Not surprisingly, the movie was based in part on a book entitled, Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich by Joachim Fest. "Inside Hitler's Bunker" could easily have served as the film's title. The film was also predicated on a book by Hitler's young secretary Traudl Junge, Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary. Observing these events firsthand, Ms. Junge features prominently in the story, and the actual Ms. Junge appears at the end of the film. In addition, the movie follows a Nazi internist who futilely seeks to help injured Germans, including civilians who have not been evacuated while the Russians invaded Berlin.

The film has garnered numerous accolades including an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film (it's in German). I have also seen some reviews that have called it one of the best "war movies" ever made. It's not a "war movie" in the traditional sense, with men charging up hills, or lots of battlefield action. It's more of a view behind the frontlines (an intriguing perspective highlighted to a lesser extent in an excellent film by Randall Wallace and Mel Gibson, "We Were Soldiers" (2002).) This interior perspective actually provides additional disturbing insights into Hitler and his military leaders. They expressed such chilling distain for their own people--civilians or otherwise--that I heard gasps from the audience in the theater. This abject betrayal of the German people was juxtaposed with Hitler's paranoic rants about his "betrayal" by his generals, other officials and the civilians themselves.

This leads me to Bruno Ganz' portrayal of Hilter: off-the-charts staggering. I have read that Mr. Ganz obtained one of the few recordings of Hitler's voice (other than in an oratory setting) and assiduously sought to bring it to the screen. It's hard to find any flaw in his acting performance.

This movie is the antithesis of the pathetic tv movie that disgraced CBS' airwaves a year or two ago, which erroneously made Hitler appear like a cartoon character. In fact, if Scott Peterson were sentenced to watch that CBS tv movie, any lucid appellate court in the land would have stricken down such a sentence as cruel and unusual punishment.

"Downfall" is punishing in another way; it's punishing because it makes the viewer see and feel the horrifying realities of this history.

"Downfall" receives an "A-".