Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler
Alaxandra Maria Lara as Traudl Junge
Juliane Kohler as Eva Braun
Ulrich Matthes as Joseph Goebbels
Corine Harfouch as Magda Goebbels
Have Adolf Hitler and the German Nazi Party been used too often in popular media? I realize the importance of learning from history, but Hitler is a character who may now hold the record for most appearances in movies. In the realm of video games, Nazi soldiers are becoming a more and more common sight.There have been many other bloodthirsty dictators and dangerous ideologies, but none get even a fraction of the exposure that Hitler and Nazism do. Communism did start to come close in the 1980s, but that didn’t last. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge. This will be my second review of a movie that takes place in Nazi-era Germany, after all.
In any case, this appropriately German-made film brings the dying days of the Third Reich to life. We open with an old lady recalling how horrible this period was and a father trying to get his son out of a hopeless war, only to be dismissed as a coward by said son. Inside Hitler’s bunker, we see Germany’s political/military leaders plotting the last defense, failing, and finally killing themselves in cowardice, lest they be humiliated on an international tribunal.
But that’s not what this movie is about. What this movie focuses on is the Nazi leaders as human beings.
There’s Hitler’s fiance, Eva Braun, who is so star-struck by her new love that she refuses to believe that the war has been lost.
Joseph Goebbels is similarly unwilling to see the truth. He’s been so completely absorbed in the mythology of national socialism that he can’t believe that it’s not the wave of the future.
Others are of more mixed viewpoints. Some also cling to fantasy. Others know that they must surrender while they can but don’t know how to say that without being executed for “treason.” Still others are just content to do their jobs and leave other concerns to those in power.
Hitler is the one who takes defeat the worst. First, he lives in a bubble where there’s far more soldiers left to throw at the Allies than there actually are. When even he must face reality, he blames his “cowardly” and “traitorous” generals for “hindering” his plans.
Bruno Ganz plays Hitler as an over-the-top madman. Which is actually how Hitler was. He simply wasn’t in the right state of mind that our world leaders need to be in. But I wouldn’t say Ganz ever goes too far. In fact, this is a fantastic performance.
What I like about this movie most is its look into the darkest recesses of the human soul. We get to see how truly evil the Nazis were. At a dinner, for instance:
Hitler: <“Life never forgives weakness. This so-called ‘humanity’ is just priests’ drivel. Compassion is the primal sin. Compassion for the weak is a betrayal of nature.”>
Goebbels: <“The strongest can only be victorious by eradicating the weak.”>
Hitler: <“I have always obeyed this law of nature by never permitting myself to feel compassion. I have ruthlessly suppressed domestic opposition and brutally crushed the resistance of alien races. It’s the only way to deal with it. Apes, for example, trample every outsider to death. What goes for apes goes even more for human beings.”>
If there is any criticism to be made of Downfall, it’s that it overplays the brainwashing of the German people somewhat. The truth is that they were uniquely vulnerable to it after the Treaty of Versailles that imposed ridiculous war reparations on Germany, starving its people and leaving them in search of just about any medicine.
Beyond that, there’s little to complain about. The Nazis may be an excessively probed topic, but Downfall is still a must-see for any history buff. And even if you’re not, it’s a fantastic look into the evil of men worthy of Martin Scorsese.
Overall: 9 out of 10