Downfall (2004 film)

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Downfall
Der Untergang - Poster.jpg
German theatrical release poster
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Screenplay by Bernd Eichinger
Story by Joachim Fest (Historical account)
Based on Memoirs 
by Traudl Junge
and Melissa Müller
Starring Bruno Ganz
Alexandra Maria Lara
Ulrich Matthes
Corinna Harfouch
Juliane Köhler
Thomas Kretschmann
Music by Stephan Zacharias
Cinematography Rainer Klausmann
Edited by Hans Funck
Production
  company
Newmarket Capital Group
Distributed by Constantin Film (Germany)
01 Distribuzione (Italy)
Release date(s)
  • 16 September 2004 (2004-09-16) (Germany)
  • 17 September 2004 (2004-09-17) (Austria)
  • 29 April 2005 (2005-04-29) (Italy)
Running time 155 minutes[1]
178 minutes (Extended cut)
Country Germany
Italy
Austria
Language German
Russian
Budget €13.5 million[2]
Box office $92,180,910[2]

Downfall (German: Der Untergang) is a 2004 German war film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, depicting the final ten days of Adolf Hitler's reign over Nazi Germany in 1945.

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.

Plot[edit]

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 under way. Traudl is awakened, along with her fellow secretary Gerda Christian and cook Constanze Manziarly, by a loud blast. Hitler emerges from his office demanding answers. Hitler learns from Generals Wilhelm Burgdorf and Karl Koller that the Red Army is 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, members of his unit are awarded the Iron Cross by Hitler.

SS doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck is ordered to evacuate Berlin as part of Operation Clausewitz. Schenck persuades 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. After finding medical supplies at a deserted hospital, 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 which is broken up by artillery shells.

The next day, General Helmuth Weidling receives word that he is to be executed for ordering a retreat to the west against Hitler's orders. Weidling explains that there was a mistake and he is spared, only to be appointed to oversee the city's defences.

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.

Another day passes and General Hans Krebs informs Hitler that Berlin's defences have further disintegrated. Hitler still believes Steiner's attack will control the Russian charge, but Krebs and Jodl tell him Steiner did not have sufficient forces. Hitler dismisses everyone from the room except for Burgdorf, Krebs, Jodl, and Keitel, then flies into a rage against his troops and generals. Hitler finally acknowledges that the war is lost, but insists that he will remain in Berlin and commit suicide.[3]

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.

Hitler loses his sense of reality. Field Marshal Keitel is ordered to find Admiral Karl Dönitz, who 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 allows Speer to leave.

Hitler summons General Robert Ritter von Greim and his mistress, ace pilot Hanna Reitsch to the bunker and 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 rage. He orders von Greim and Reitsch to leave Berlin, rendezvous with Dönitz and ensure that Himmler is dealt with. Hitler delusively assures von Greim that his ordered counter-strikes can be carried out 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 shameful. 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. Hitler demands that Fegelein be found. A 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 only 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.

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 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 Number 1, and retires to his room with Braun. Frantic at the thought of a world without Hitler, 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 through the bunker's emergency exit to the Reich Chancellery garden. The corpses are doused in petrol and set alight; given one final Nazi salute. Thereafter, General Krebs leads a delegation through the Russian lines and tries to negotiate peace terms with Soviet Lieutenant-General Vasily Chuikov. Chuikov says that the Soviets will accept only 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 up 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. 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 General 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. 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.

While the Red Army ranks are only 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. Peter tugs her arm and she hastens away. At a ruined bridge, Peter finds a bicycle and they pedal away from Berlin. The epilogue then tells the fates of the other characters and one final segment where the real life Traudl appears before the credits.

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

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 an 11-minute recording of Hitler in private conversation with Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim in order to mimic Hitler's conversational voice and distinct Austrian dialect properly.[4]

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?"

Concern about the film's depiction of Hitler led The New Yorker film critic David Denby to note:[5]

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:[5]

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.

After previewing the film, Hitler biographer Sir Ian Kershaw wrote in The Guardian:[6]

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.

Addressing other critics like Denby, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote:[7]

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.[8]

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 was nominated for the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the 77th Academy Awards. The film also won the 2005 BBC Four World Cinema competition.[9]

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.[10]

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".

Criticism[edit]

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.[11] 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."[12]

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.[13]

Parodies[edit]

The movie is well known as the inspiration 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.[14] 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,[15] 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, Valkyrie, Hitler: The Last Ten Days and even films or footage that have little or nothing to do with Downfall's subject matter, are also juxtaposed for humorous effect, along with characters and settings from different, and often unrelated series. 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",[16][17] devoted to the practice of making Downfall-related videos. Some of them have cited their reasons on making the parodies.[18] Stacy Lee Blackmon, a YouTube user known for maintaining the HitlerRantsParodies channel,[19] has over 900 videos to his name, as of February 15, 2014. 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.[17]

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."[20] Nevertheless, Constantin Films has taken an "ambivalent" view of the parodies, and has asked video sites to remove many of them.[21] On April 21, 2010, the producers initiated a removal of parody videos on YouTube.[22] 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.[23]

In October 2010, YouTube stopped blocking Downfall-derived parodies.[24] Corynne McSherry, an attorney specializing in intellectual property and free speech issues[25] 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."[26]

In January 2012, British Labour MP Tom Harris stepped down from his Internet adviser role following adverse media reaction to his Downfall parody ridiculing Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.[27]

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.[28][29][30]

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.[31][32]

In August 2014 the Helsinki Film Festival, as part of the advertising for the 2014 festival programme, made a close reenactment of the much parodied bunker scene from the film, reproducing closely the film set, but using Finnish actors and with the role of Hitler replaced by Finnish military leader and statesman Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.[33]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "DOWNFALL (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 2004-12-24. Retrieved 2012-06-11. 
  2. ^ a b "DOWNFALL". Box Office Mojo. 
  3. ^ Adolf Hitler: “But, gentlemen, if you believe I'm going to leave Berlin, you are seriously mistaken. I'd rather blow my brains out,”
  4. ^ Diver, Krysia and Moss, Stephen (March 25, 2003). "Desperately seeking Adolf". The Guardian (London). Retrieved February 6, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Denby, David (February 14, 2005). "David Denby's comments on Der Untergang". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  6. ^ Kershaw, Ian (September 17, 2004). "The human Hitler". The Guardian (London). Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 11, 2005). "Downfall". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  8. ^ Eckardt, Andy (September 16, 2004). "Film showing Hitler's soft side stirs controversy". NBC News. MSNBC. 
  9. ^ "Downfall wins BBC world film gong". BBC. January 26, 2006. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  10. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 48. Downfall". Empire. 
  11. ^ Eberle, Henrik, MacDonogh, Giles and Uhl, Matthias. The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossier Prepared for Stalin, New York: PublicAffairs, 2005, p 370. ISBN 1-58648-366-8
  12. ^ Fischer, Thomas. Soldiers of the Leibstandarte, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. 2008, p 26.
  13. ^ Wenders, Wim (October 21, 2004). "Tja, dann wollen wir mal". Die Zeit. Retrieved July 5, 2009. (German)
  14. ^ BBC: The rise, rise and rise of the Downfall Hitler parody
  15. ^ Boutin, Paul (February 25, 2010), "Video Mad Libs With the Right Software", The New York Times: B10, retrieved February 26, 2010 . The self-aware Hitler parody is at http://www.kontraband.com/videos/19360/Hitler-Hates-Downfall-Parodies/
  16. ^ "Internetting: a user's guide #18 - How downfall gained cult status". The Guardian (London). July 5, 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  17. ^ a b "Kobra - Del 2 av 12: Hitlerhumor" (in Swedish). SVT Play. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  18. ^ Evangelista, Benny (July 23, 2010). "Parody, copyright law clash in online clips". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  19. ^ "The Passion of the Hitler: The World’s Most Prolific Downfall Parodist Speaks". Heeb. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  20. ^ Rosenblum, Emma (January 15, 2010). "The Director of Downfall Speaks Out on All Those Angry YouTube Hitlers". New York. Retrieved January 16, 2010. 
  21. ^ Finlo Rohrer (April 13, 2010). "The rise, rise and rise of the Downfall Hitler parody". BBC News. Retrieved April 13, 2010. 
  22. ^ Finlo Rohrer (April 21, 2010). "Downfall filmmakers want YouTube to take down Hitler spoofs". The Guardian (London). Retrieved April 21, 2010. 
  23. ^ Parody, copyright law clash in online clips - San Francisco Chronicle
  24. ^ "Constantin Film are not blocking parodies any more". Retrieved October 23, 2010. 
  25. ^ "EFF's Staff | Electronic Frontier Foundation". Eff.org. 2011-04-25. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  26. ^ "YouTube Pulls Hitler 'Downfall' Parodies". NPR. 2010-04-23. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  27. ^ "MP Tom Harris quits media post over Hitler joke video". BBC News. January 16, 2012. Retrieved January 29, 2012. 
  28. ^ Jauregui, Andres (September 18, 2012). "Hitler 'Gangnam Style' Probably Crosses The Line, But Meh (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  29. ^ "Hitler Does 'Gangnam Style' Angry-Style [VIDEO]". Mashable. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  30. ^ "Godwin's Psy: Hitler Reacts to 'Gangnam Style' in Obligatory Internet Video". Gawker. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  31. ^ "Jefferies Must Pay Fired Trader $1.86 Million, Court Says - Bloomberg". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  32. ^ Linkins, Jason (July 9, 2013). "The 'Downfall' Internet Meme Has FINALLY Made Somebody Rich". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  33. ^ "Mannerheim kuulee Rakkautta ja Anarkiaa -festivaalista", Helsingin Sanomat, 18.8.2014..

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]