Friday, March 18, 2011

Der Untergang (2004)

Downfall is one of the more daring films made in recent years. To depict the final moments amongst the core leadership of the Third Reich in as realistic a manner as possible is a risky undertaking. For one thing, it is not the sort of film people will want to see for entertainment value. It is not so much a story as it is a hard study of a terrible moment in time. On the other hand, some people will misinterpret your efforts as an attempt to humanize the horribly evil people behind one of the greater atrocities in human history.

As it turned out, that was one of the more mentioned critiques of the film when it came out. However, that was also one of the strengths of the film as well. The fact is that the world has done too good a job of demonizing Hitler. Hold it. Consider what is being said here. Yes, Hitler was an example of the most evil aspects humanity has to offer, but that is just it… he was a man. We tend to prefer to think of him as a complete monster. He is one of those people whom we refer to when we make ourselves or anyone else feel better about our ideas or actions. “Sure, I am not perfect but at least I’m no Hitler!” Downfall reminds us just how horrible we can be as people. In this case, an entire nation to varying degrees of culpability contributed to one of the most horrific cases of mass-murder of the Twentieth Century.

It also sheds the tiniest light on a lesser observed aspect of World War II: the eastern front and the sacking of Berlin. Most Westerners limited to what they are told through public education haven’t the slightest idea how terrible the conflict was between Germany and Russia with atrocities committed on both sides; and how devastating the occupation of Berlin was at the end of the war.

The very end of the movie departs from strict factual history. (A couple other instances in the film also take poetic license.) The image of the secretary and the young boy escaping the way they did was not historically accurate, but the symbolism it carries is important. The younger generations of Germans that emerged from this conflict and that are emerging today after the decades of its aftermath are an innocent people. They had no part in what their ancestors did before them and in many ways are far more sensitive to the dangers of the lies their fathers bought into.

This era of human history can never be brought up enough and serves as a perpetual warning to generations to come. All those convinced of the wisdom of their own ideology would do well to continually compare themselves and the lengths to which they are willing to commit to those of the fanatical leaders of this film.

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