Downfall (2004 film)
German theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Oliver Hirschbiegel|
|Produced by||Bernd Eichinger|
|Screenplay by||Bernd Eichinger|
|Story by||Joachim Fest (Historical account)|
by Traudl Junge
and Melissa Müller
Alexandra Maria Lara
|Music by||Stephan Zacharias|
|Editing by||Hans Funck|
|Studio||Newmarket Capital Group|
|Distributed by||Constantin Film (Germany)
01 Distribuzione (Italy)
|Running time||155 minutes
178 minutes (Extended cut)
The film is written and produced by Bernd Eichinger, and based upon the books Inside Hitler's Bunker, by historian Joachim Fest; Until the Final Hour, the memoirs of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries (co-written with Melissa Müller); Albert Speer's memoirs, Inside the Third Reich; Hitler's Last Days: An Eye–Witness Account, by Gerhardt Boldt; Das Notlazarett unter der Reichskanzlei: Ein Arzt erlebt Hitlers Ende in Berlin by Doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck; and, Siegfried Knappe's memoirs, Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936–1949.
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The movie begins with the real-life Traudl Junge expressing guilt and shame for admiring Hitler in her youth. In 1942 a group of German secretaries are escorted to Adolf Hitler's compound at the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia, including young Traudl.
The story resumes on April 20, 1945, Hitler's 56th birthday, as the Battle of Berlin is underway. Traudl is awakened along with her fellow secretary Gerda Christian and cook Constanze Manziarly by a loud blast. The women deduce that it is from long range artillery, as does Hitler who emerges from his office demanding answers. From Generals Wilhelm Burgdorf and Karl Koller Hitler learns that the Red Army has advanced to within 12 kilometers of central Berlin.
At his birthday reception, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and his SS adjutant Hermann Fegelein plead with Hitler to leave the city. Instead, Hitler declares, "I will defeat them in Berlin, or face my downfall." Himmler leaves to negotiate surrender terms with the Western Allies behind Hitler's back.
In another part of the city, a group of Hitler Youth members continues to build defences. Peter, a boy in the group, is urged by his father to desert. Peter resists and later his unit is awarded the Iron Cross by Hitler.
SS doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck is ordered to evacuate Berlin as part of Operation Clausewitz. Schenck convinces an SS general to let him stay to treat the wounded and starving. Schenck is requested by Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke to bring available medical supplies to the Reich Chancellery. Searching a deserted hospital, Schenck finds the basement filled with corpses and abandoned patients. After finding medical supplies, Schenck unsuccessfully tries to prevent the summary execution of two old men by members of a Greifkommando or Feldgendarmerie. Meanwhile, Hitler discusses his new scorched earth policy with his Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer. Eva Braun ignores Fegelein's pleas to leave Berlin and holds a party for the bunker inhabitants in the Reich Chancellery, but Soviet artillery shells end the party.
The next day, General Helmuth Weidling is mistakenly thought to have ordered a retreat to the West and is ordered to the bunker to be executed. Weidling explains himself to Burgdorf and Hans Krebs, only to find himself appointed commander of the Berlin Defence Area by Hitler.
Later, Hitler is informed by Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl that the 9th Army, under the command of Theodor Busse, is in danger of annihilation. Hitler announces that Waffen-SS General Felix Steiner's unit will assist the 9th with help from Walther Wenck's 12th Army, and attack the Soviets from the north. Jodl warns Hitler that such a move will leave Berlin open to an attack from the west, but Hitler dismisses Jodl's concerns.
Another day passes and Krebs informs Hitler that Berlin's defenses have further disintegrated. Hitler still believes Steiner's attack will control the Russian charge. Krebs and Jodl inform Hitler that the attack never took place as Steiner could not mobilize a large enough force. Hitler dismisses everyone from the room except for Burgdorf, Krebs, Jodl, and Keitel, then flies into a rage. Hitler finally acknowledges that the war is lost, but insists that he will remain in Berlin and commit suicide.
General Mohnke is outraged when he sees conscripted civilians under the command of Joseph Goebbels needlessly gunned down. Mohnke has them removed from the line of fire and returns to the Reich Chancellery to confront Goebbels. Goebbels tells Mohnke that he has no pity for the civilians, as they chose their fate. Hitler, Braun, Traudl, and Gerda Christian discuss various means of suicide whilst Krebs, Burgdorf, and other military staff get drunk. Hitler gives Christian and Traudl one cyanide capsule each. Eva Braun and Magda Goebbels type goodbye letters. In the streets of Berlin, child soldiers are annihilated by Soviet fire.
Hitler loses his sense of reality. Field Marshal Keitel is ordered to find Admiral Karl Dönitz, whom Hitler believes is gathering troops in the north, and help him plan an offensive to recover the Romanian oil fields. Oberscharführer Rochus Misch, Hitler's radio operator, receives a telegram from Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring, asking permission to assume command and become head-of-state. Hitler orders Göring's arrest. Speer urges Hitler to halt the scorched-earth orders, but Hitler refuses. Speer confesses that he never implemented the plan. Hitler is shaken but does not punish Speer who is allowed to leave.
Hitler summons General Robert Ritter von Greim and his mistress, ace pilot Hanna Reitsch, to the bunker. He appoints von Greim Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe. At dinner, Hitler receives a report that Himmler has attempted to negotiate a separate peace settlement with the Western Allies. Betrayed, Hitler explodes in a tearful outburst. He orders von Greim and Reitsch to leave Berlin, rendezvous with Dönitz who Hitler states is preparing a strike with Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, and ensure that Himmler is dealt with. Hitler delusively assures von Greim that he can carry out this strike with a thousand jet aircraft, which do not exist. Reichsphysician SS Ernst-Robert Grawitz, the head of the German Red Cross and responsible for Nazi human medical experiments, requests that he be allowed to leave Berlin for fear of reprisal. Hitler denies his request, assuring him that he has done nothing which would cause any shame. Grawitz returns to his apartment and kills his family and himself with grenades.
Hitler wishes to speak to Fegelein about Himmler's treachery but Fegelein has deserted the bunker. Hitler demands that Fegelein be found. An RSD squad arrests Fegelein. Despite a tearful plea to Hitler by Eva Braun to spare her brother-in-law, Fegelein is executed by Peter Högl. Weidling reports to Hitler there are no reserves left and air support has ceased. Mohnke reports that the Red Army is only 300 to 400 metres from the Reich Chancellery and that defending forces can hold out for a day or two at most. Hitler reassures the officers that General Walther Wenck's 12th Army will save them. After Hitler leaves the conference room, Weidling asks the other generals if it is truly possible for Wenck to attack; they agree it is impossible, but do not surrender.
After midnight, Hitler dictates his last will and testament to Traudl, before marrying Eva Braun. Hitler has ordered Goebbels to leave Berlin, but Goebbels intends to die with Hitler. When Hitler's adjutant Otto Günsche brings a reply from Keitel that Wenck's army cannot continue its assault, Hitler states he will never surrender. He forbids all officers to surrender on pain of summary execution. Hitler then gives Günsche the order to cremate his body and that of Eva Braun. Hitler summons Dr. Schenck, Dr. Werner Haase, and nurse Erna Flegel to the bunker to thank them for their services. Dr. Haase explains to Hitler the best method for suicide as well as administering poison to Hitler's dog, Blondi. Braun gives Traudl one of her best coats and makes her promise to flee the bunker. Hitler eats his final meal in silence with Manziarly and his secretaries. He bids farewell to the bunker staff, gives Magda his own Golden Party Badge #1, and retires to his room with Braun. Frantic at the thought of a world without Hitler and the possibility of killing her children, Magda pleads with Hitler to change his mind. Hitler states, "Tomorrow, millions of people will curse me, but fate has taken its course."
Adolf and Eva Hitler retreat to their rooms and commit suicide. Their bodies are carried to ground level through the bunker's emergency exit to the Reich Chancellery garden. The corpses are doused in petrol and set alight. From the bunker entrance, surrounding officers give one final Nazi salute. Thereafter, General Krebs leads a delegation through the Russian lines and tries to negotiate peace terms with Soviet General Vasily Chuikov. Chuikov says that the Soviets will only accept unconditional surrender, but Krebs does not have the authority, so he returns to the bunker.
Magda Goebbels poisons her six children while her husband waits. Then Goebbels and Magda proceed to the Chancellery garden, where Goebbels shoots his wife and himself. The people remaining in the bunker agree that they must try to break out of the Soviet encirclement. Krebs and Burgdorf commit suicide as the rest evacuate. Weidling goes out and broadcasts to all Berliners that the Führer is dead; he calls for a ceasefire with Lieutenant-General Vasily Chuikov.
Meanwhile, Schenck and Walther Hewel stay with Mohnke and his remaining SS troops, who debate about what to do once the Soviet troops arrive. Schenck tries to talk sense into Hewel who promised Hitler he would kill himself. When news reaches the officers that Berlin has been surrendered, Hewel and several SS officers shoot themselves. Outside, child soldier Peter finds that his post has been obliterated and his colleagues are dead. He scrambles away. On a side street, the menacing Greifkommando or Feldgendarmerie men stalk across his path. Peter enters a nearby apartment and finds the squad has executed his parents.
Red Army ranks are just blocks away. Traudl decides to leave. Peter emerges in civilian clothes, takes her hand and pulls her through the masses. Moving ahead, Traudl blunders into a celebrating drunken Red Army soldier who turns his attention to her. Peter tugs her arm and she hastens away. At a ruined bridge, Peter finds a bicycle and they pedal away from Berlin. The fates of the surviving characters are superimposed, and one final segment with the real life Traudl appears before the credits.
- Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler
- Alexandra Maria Lara as Traudl Junge
- Ulrich Matthes as Joseph Goebbels
- Corinna Harfouch as Magda Goebbels
- Juliane Köhler as Eva Braun
- Thomas Kretschmann as SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein
- Heino Ferch as Albert Speer
- Christian Berkel as Ernst-Günther Schenck
- André Hennicke as SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke
- Götz Otto as Sturmbannführer Otto Günsche
- Ulrich Noethen as Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler
- Christian Redl as Generaloberst Alfred Jodl
- Rolf Kanies as Chief of the Army General Staff Hans Krebs
- Michael Mendl as General Helmuth Weidling
- Matthias Habich as Prof. Dr. Werner Haase
- Birgit Minichmayr as Gerda Christian
- Dietrich Hollinderbäumer as Generalfeldmarschall Robert Ritter von Greim
- Dieter Mann as Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel
- Justus von Dohnányi as Adolf Hitler's chief adjutant Wilhelm Burgdorf
- Gerald Alexander Held as Walther Hewel
- Thomas Thieme as Martin Bormann
- Donevan Gunia as Peter Kranz
- Hans Steinberg as Karl Koller
- Heinrich Schmieder as Oberscharführer Rochus Misch
- Igor Romanov as Obersturmbannführer Peter Högl
- Igor Bubenchikov as Franz Schädle
- Anna Thalbach as Hanna Reisch.
While treatment of the Third Reich was still a sensitive subject among many Germans even 60 years after World War II, the film broke one of the last remaining taboos by its depiction of Adolf Hitler in a central role by a German-speaking actor (as opposed to using actual film footage of Hitler). Ganz conducted four months of research to prepare for the role, studying a ten-minute recording of Hitler in private conversation with Finnish Field Marshal Mannerheim in order to mimic Hitler's conversational voice and distinct Austrian dialect properly.
The film's impending release in 2004 provoked a debate in German film magazines and newspapers. The tabloid Bild asked "Are we allowed to show the monster as a human being?"
As a piece of acting, Ganz's work is not just astounding, it's actually rather moving. But I have doubts about the way his virtuosity has been put to use. By emphasizing the painfulness of Hitler's defeat Ganz has [...] made the dictator into a plausible human being. Considered as biography, the achievement (if that's the right word) [...] is to insist that the monster was not invariably monstrous – that he was kind to his cook and his young female secretaries, loved his German shepherd, Blondi, and was surrounded by loyal subordinates. We get the point: Hitler was not a supernatural being; he was common clay raised to power by the desire of his followers. But is this observation a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did?
With respect to German uneasiness about "humanizing" Hitler, Denby said:
A few journalists in [Germany] wondered aloud whether the "human" treatment of Hitler might not inadvertently aid the neo-Nazi movement. But in his many rants in [the film] Hitler says that the German people do not deserve to survive, that they have failed him by losing the war and must perish – not exactly the sentiments […] that would spark a recruitment drive. This Hitler may be human, but he's as utterly degraded a human being as has ever been shown on the screen, a man whose every impulse leads to annihilation.
Knowing what I did of the bunker story, I found it hard to imagine that anyone (other than the usual neo-Nazi fringe) could possibly find Hitler a sympathetic figure during his bizarre last days. And to presume that it might be somehow dangerous to see him as a human being – well, what does that thought imply about the self-confidence of a stable, liberal democracy? Hitler was, after all, a human being, even if an especially obnoxious, detestable specimen. We well know that he could be kind and considerate to his secretaries, and with the next breath show cold ruthlessness, dispassionate brutality, in determining the deaths of millions.
Of all the screen depictions of the Führer, even by famous actors, such as Alec Guinness or Anthony Hopkins, this is the only one which to me is compelling. Part of this is the voice. Ganz has Hitler's voice to near perfection. It is chillingly authentic.
Admiration I did not feel. Sympathy I felt in the sense that I would feel it for a rabid dog, while accepting that it must be destroyed. I do not feel the film provides "a sufficient response to what Hitler actually did", because I feel no film can, and no response would be sufficient. As we regard this broken and pathetic Hitler, we realize that he did not alone create the Third Reich, but was the focus for a spontaneous uprising by many of the German people, fueled by racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear. He was skilled in the ways he exploited that feeling, and surrounded himself by gifted strategists and propagandists, but he was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil. It is useful to reflect that racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear are still with us, and the defeat of one of their manifestations does not inoculate us against others.
Hirschbiegel confirmed that the film's makers sought to give Hitler a three-dimensional personality.
We know from all accounts that he was a very charming man – a man who managed to seduce a whole people into barbarism.
The film is set mostly in and around the Führerbunker. Hirschbiegel made an effort to reconstruct accurately the look and atmosphere of the bunker through eyewitness accounts, survivors' memoirs and other historical sources. According to his commentary on the DVD, Der Untergang was filmed in Berlin, Munich, and in a district of Saint Petersburg, Russia, which, with its many buildings designed by German architects, was said to resemble many parts of 1940s Berlin. The film was ranked number 48 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.
Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a "Certified Fresh" rating of 91%, based on 133 reviews (121 "fresh", 12 "rotten"), with an average score of 8.0/10. The site's general consensus is: "Downfall is an illuminating, thoughtful and detailed account of Hitler's last days". Metacritic gave the film a score of 82 out of 100, based on 35 reviews, indicating "Universal Acclaim".
The author Giles MacDonogh criticised the film for sympathetic portrayals of Wilhelm Mohnke and Ernst-Günther Schenck. Mohnke was rumoured, but never proven to have ordered the execution of a group of British P.O.W.s in the Wormhoudt massacre near Dunkirk in 1940, while Schenck's experiments with medicinal plants in 1938 allegedly led to the deaths of a number of concentration camp prisoners. In answer to this criticism, the film's director, in the DVD commentary, stated he did his own research and did not find the allegations as to Schenck to be convincing. Furthermore, Mohnke strongly denied the accusations against him, telling historian Thomas Fischer, "I issued no orders not to take English prisoners or to execute prisoners."
German director Wim Wenders called the filmmakers' collaboration with a history professor "a strategic move to compile cultural capital and move the film beyond the reach of reprehensibility, challenge, or contradiction by writers or critics unwilling to engage the material other than by pointing out historical inaccuracies." He felt that the film said: "Wir wissen, wovon wir reden" ("We know what we're talking about"). Further, Wenders argued that Der Untergang presented an uncritical viewpoint toward the barbarism of its subject matter, and accused the filmmakers of "Verharmlosung" ("trivialising"). Wenders supported this observation with close readings of the film's first scene, and of Hitler's final scene, suggesting that in each case a particular set of cinematographic and editorial choices left each scene emotionally charged, resulting in a glorifying effect.
The movie is well known for "Downfall Parodies". One scene in the film, in which Hitler launches into a furious tirade upon finally realizing that the war is truly lost, has become a staple of internet videos. In these videos, the original audio of Ganz's voice is retained, but new subtitles are added so that he now seems to be reacting instead to some setback in present-day politics, sports, popular culture, or everyday life. Other scenes from various portions of the film have been parodied in the same manner, notably the scenes where Hitler orders Otto Günsche to find SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein, and where Hitler discusses a counterattack against advancing Soviet forces with his generals. By 2010, there were thousands of such parodies, including many in which a self-aware Hitler is incensed that people keep making Downfall parodies, and videos that depict Hitler as having a fierce rivalry with Fegelein, with the latter plotting mischief against his superior through a number of cruel and often comical antics. Clips from other films, such as Inglourious Basterds, Dear Friend Hitler and even films or footage that have little or nothing to do with Downfall's subject matter, are also juxtaposed for humorous effect. Parodies that make use of special effects or computer-generated imagery are also starting to become popular among fans, ranging from superimposing the characters' heads on other footage, to rotoscoping scenes from the film into different backgrounds.
The parodies, as well as the film itself, have also gained a cult following, spawning a community of YouTube users who call themselves "Untergangers", devoted to the practice of making Downfall-related videos. Some of them have cited their reasons on making the parodies. Stacy Lee Blackmon, a YouTube user known for maintaining the HitlerRantsParodies channel, has over 800 videos to his name, as of December 27, 2012. In an interview with the Swedish magazine show Kobra, Blackmon denied claims about parody makers being neo-Nazi sympathizers, and stated that the Unterganger community disparages Nazism.
The film's director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, spoke positively about these parodies in a 2010 interview with New York magazine, saying that many of them were funny and they were a fitting extension of the film's purpose: "The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality. I think it's only fair if now it's taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like." Nevertheless, Constantin Films has taken an "ambivalent" view of the parodies, and has asked video sites to remove many of them. On April 21, 2010, the producers initiated a removal of parody videos on YouTube. This in turn prompted posting of videos of Hitler complaining about the fact that the parodies were being taken down, and a resurgence of the videos on the site.
In October 2010, YouTube stopped blocking Downfall-derived parodies. Corynne McSherry, an attorney specializing in intellectual property and free speech issues for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, stated, "All the Downfall parody videos that I've seen are very strong fair use cases and so they're not infringing, and they shouldn't be taken down."
In late 2012, an unknown DJ made a mashup with some clips from Downfall and made a Gangnam Style parody called Hitler Style. Similarly-themed parodies were also made by several YouTube users which have earned millions of views.
In July 2013, Jefferies Group, an American investment firm, was ordered by a Hong Kong court to pay $1.86 million to former equity trading head Grant Williams for firing him over sending out a newsletter that linked to a Hitler parody video, mocking JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Downfall (2004 film).|
- Official website
- Der Untergang (Downfall) at the Internet Movie Database
- Der Untergang (Downfall) at allmovie
- Der Untergang (Downfall) at Box Office Mojo
- Der Untergang (Downfall) at Rotten Tomatoes
- Der Untergang (Downfall) at Metacritic
- Interview with director Oliver Hirschbiegel