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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen


Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall is a German film about the last days of Hitler's Third Reich. I saw it at the Film Forum in the Village and walked out fairly speechless. I highly recommend the film to anyone at all, but it is a war movie, and to call it dark is an understatement. Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Hitler is almost utterly convincing, and he takes you through the mad Führer's descent into despair as he stubbornly refuses to leave his Berlin bunker. Ganz studied Parkinson's patients in a Swiss hospital to prepare for the role and studied with an actor who was young in Hitler's era to perfect his accent (source), and on the screen, his is both a small, unassuming German man, and a monster of epic proportions.

The story is told through the eyes of Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge, who they interviewed for the movie and a clip of this interview is tacked on to the end of the movie. In the clip, she explains that she did not know what sorts of atrocities were being committed in the name of her country, deepens the sense of realism and blindness of this story. Junge, played with a mix of innocence and ignorance by Alexandra Maria Lara, was hired two years before the actual fall of Berlin, and she is awestruck of Hitler, and seeks somehow to stand by him as the Russians storm the walls. In an act of kindness, Hitler gives her the choice to share his fate with him.

The Nazi ideology was everywhere, and it is this that makes the whole movie surreal, as what you see seems to undermine reason. The performance of the mouthpiece of Nazi dogma was chilling. This is a movie about the madness of war, told by Germans about relatively recent events in their own country, and it's easy to understand why it was controversial in its native country.

The body count is very high, and the violence is desperate, human, and realistic. There are so many characters, most of them manic in their own ways, all of them watching their world crashing down around them. Outside the bunker, a doctor desperately tries to keep the people of Berlin from starving, and the children fight their own ideological war against reality in the rubble of the city. Inside, Eva Braun, played by Juliane Köhler, is content to party her last days away as the Führer accuses his generals of conspiring against him. It's a mesmerizing two and a half hours of desperation.

I tried hard to come up with some bad stuff in the movie, and didn't come up with much of anything, except to say that for my caffeine-addled mind, the pacing was a bit slow for me towards the end. It's a foreign film, and they all tend to move just a step slower than your standard American fare, so I'll just chalk that up to triple Venti caramel no-foam lattes.

BSR (Base Show Rating): 10/10
Applicable Modifiers
  • -3 if you are sensitive to macabre imagery, such as group suicide, body burnings, and psychotic behavior.
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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.