Downfall (2004 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Oliver Hirschbiegel|
|Produced by||Bernd Eichinger|
|Screenplay by||Bernd Eichinger|
|Music by||Stephan Zacharias|
|Edited by||Hans Funck|
Constantin Film (Germany, Austria)|
01 Distribution (Italy)
|Box office||$92.2 million|
Downfall (German: Der Untergang) is a 2004 German historical war drama film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel from a screenplay by producer Bernd Eichinger. It depicts the final ten days of Adolf Hitler's rule over Nazi Germany in 1945, and is based on several accounts of the period. The film received critical acclaim upon release and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Several scenes from the film have become the basis for a widespread viral video phenomenon.
In November 1942, Hitler orders that a secretary be hired, with Traudl Junge getting the job at the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia. The time then changes to Hitler's birthday in 1945. During the Battle of Berlin, an artillery blast wakes up Traudl, Gerda Christian and Constanze Manziarly, the other assistants. Down in the Führerbunker, Hitler is informed by Wilhelm Burgdorf that Berlin is under attack and the Red Army has advanced to within 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) of central Berlin. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler leaves to negotiate surrender terms with the Western Allies behind Hitler's back after he refuses to leave the city. Meanwhile, a group of Hitler Youth members bolster defenses. Peter, one of the members, is urged by his father to desert but refuses.
SS physician Ernst-Günther Schenck convinces an SS general to allow his ignoring of an evacuation order and is then requested by Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke to bring medical supplies to the Reich Chancellery. Hitler discusses his new scorched earth policy with his Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer, while Eva Braun holds a party that is broken up by artillery fire. After General Helmuth Weidling explains to Hans Krebs and Burgdorf that he allegedly ordering a retreat to the west was a misunderstanding, Weidling is appointed to oversee Berlin's crumbling defenses. Hitler orders an attack from Felix Steiner's unit to stem the future Soviet advance – army groups. But is told afterwards that Steiner could not mount the attack, to which he flies into a furious rage at what he perceives as betrayal.
General Mohnke confronts Joseph Goebbels, who is relentless against civilians of the Volkssturm, while Hitler orders Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel to find Admiral Karl Dönitz and help plan an offensive to recover the Romanian oil fields. Later on, Martin Bormann interrupts a meeting between Hitler, Goebbels, and Walther Hewel to read a message from Hermann Göring requesting command and head-of-state. Hitler strips Göring of rank, and orders him arrested, naming Robert Ritter von Greim as replacement. Speer admits defying Hitler's scorched earth policy orders, however he does not punish Speer.
Hitler then receives report that Himmler contacted Folke Bernadotte attempting to negotiate surrender. Hitler orders test pilot Hanna Reitsch to find him and his adjutant Hermann Fegelein. After learning that Fegelein has deserted, Hitler orders him executed. Fegelein is found drunk and executed by an RSD squad.
Reichsphysician SS Ernst-Robert Grawitz, head of the German Red Cross also responsible for Nazi human medical experiments, asks Hitler's permission to evacuate for fear of reprisal from the Soviets, which Hitler denies. Grawitz commits suicide by detonating two grenades, which also kills his family. Weidling reports no reserves left, and Mohnke reports that the Red Army is only 300 to 400 metres from the Reich Chancellery. Hitler reassures that General Walther Wenck's 12th Army will save them. After midnight, Hitler dictates his last will and testament to Traudl, before marrying Eva Braun. The following morning, Weidling reports the remaining armies are now incapable of any meaningful action. Hitler plans to kill himself before he can be captured, so Dr. Werner Haase explains the best method for suicide as well as for administering poison to Blondi, his dog. Hitler bids farewell to the bunker staff, and gives Magda Goebbels his own Golden Party Badge before he and Eva then commit suicide. As per Hitler's orders, they are cremated in the Chancellery garden. Krebs then meets with Marshal Vasily Chuikov to negotiate peace terms, but returns unsuccessful.
Goebbels refuses to surrender. Magda murders her six children with cyanide before she commits suicide with her husband in the Chancellery garden. As remaining staff in the bunker evacuate, Krebs and Burgdorf kill themselves. Weidling broadcasts that Hitler is dead and that he is seeking an immediate ceasefire. The remaining SS troops of the bunker try to flee the city, Hewel joins them, but after word reaches them of the surrender he and several others shoot themselves. Meanwhile, the child soldiers have all died except Peter, who discovers a Greifkommando or Feldgendarmerie squad executed his parents. Traudl decides to leave. Peter pulls her through the masses, where they find a bicycle at a ruined bridge to leave Berlin.
- 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 Oberbefehlsleiter Albert Speer
- Christian Berkel as SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Ernst-Günther Schenck
- André Hennicke as SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke
- Götz Otto as SS-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 General der Infanterie Hans Krebs
- Michael Mendl as General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling
- Matthias Habich as SS-Obersturmbannführer 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 General der Infanterie Wilhelm Burgdorf, Hitler's chief adjutant.
- Gerald Alexander Held as Walther Hewel
- Donevan Gunia as Peter Kranz
- Thomas Thieme as Reichsleiter Martin Bormann
- Thomas Limpinsel (de) as SS-Obersturmbannführer Heinz Linge
- Hans Steinberg as General der Flieger Karl Koller
- Heinrich Schmieder as SS-Oberscharführer Rochus Misch
- Thorsten Krohn as SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger
- Jurgen Tonkel as SS-Obersturmbannführer Erich Kempka
- Igor Romanov as SS-Obersturmbannführer Peter Högl
- Igor Bubenchikov as SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Schädle
- Michael Brandner as Hans Fritzsche
- Christian Hoening as SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst-Robert Grawitz
- Anna Thalbach as Hanna Reitsch
- Bettina Redlich as Constanze Manziarly
- Devid Striesow as Feldwebel Fritz Tornow
- Elizaveta Boyarskaya as Erna Flegel
- Mathias Gnädinger as Luftwaffe commander-in-chief Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring
- Alexander Slastin as Soviet Colonel General Vasily Chuikov
The film was based upon the books Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich (1945), by historian Joachim Fest; Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary (1947), the memoirs of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries (co-written with Melissa Müller); Inside the Third Reich (first published in German in 1969), the memoirs of Albert Speer, one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials to survive both the war and the Nuremberg trials; Hitler's Last Days: An Eye–Witness Account (first English translation 1973), by Gerhard Boldt; Das Notlazarett unter der Reichskanzlei: Ein Arzt erlebt Hitlers Ende in Berlin by Doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck; and Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936–1949 (1992), Siegfried Knappe's memoir.
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 properly mimic Hitler's conversational voice and distinct Austrian dialect.
At the beginning of the film and at the very end, an excerpt was used from the documentary Im toten Winkel (2002), featuring the real Traudl Junge expressing her guilt and shame for admiring Adolf Hitler in her youth.
The film is set mostly in and around the Führerbunker. Hirschbiegel made an effort to accurately reconstruct 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 has many buildings designed by German architects, which was said to resemble many parts of 1940s Berlin. Hirschbiegel said that the film's makers sought to give Hitler a three-dimensional personality, telling NBC: "We know from all accounts that he was a very charming man – a man who managed to seduce a whole people into barbarism."
Its 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?" On its broadcast in the UK, Channel 4 marketed it with the strapline: "It's a happy ending. He dies".
The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives Downfall an approval rating of 91% based on 138 critics (an average rating of 8 out of 10) and the consensus, "Downfall is an illuminating, thoughtful and detailed account of Hitler's last days." The film has a score of 82 out of 100 on Metacritic (based on 35 critics), indicating "universal acclaim".
Much praise was directed towards the film's accuracy in showing Adolf Hitler, and Bruno Ganz's portrayal of him. Critics also lauded the portrayal of the powerful setting the film unveils in the final closing moments of World War II. The New Yorker film critic David Denby noted with respect to the film's depiction of Hitler: "By emphasizing the painfulness of Hitler's defeat Ganz has [...] made the dictator into a plausible human being. Considered as biography, the achievement [...] 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. [...] 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."
Hitler biographer Sir Ian Kershaw wrote in The Guardian: "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."
Addressing other critics like Denby, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote: "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." 
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 POWs 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 response, the film's director stated he did his own research and did not find the allegations as to Schenck convincing. Mohnke strongly denied the accusations against him, telling historian Thomas Fischer, "I issued no orders not to take English prisoners or to execute prisoners."
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 lost, has become a staple of internet videos. In these videos, the original German audio is retained, but new subtitles are added so that Hitler and his subordinates seem to be reacting instead to some setback in present-day politics, sports, entertainment, popular culture, or everyday life. Other scenes from various portions of the film have been parodied in the same manner, including the scenes where Hitler orders Otto Günsche to find SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein, where Hitler discusses a counterattack against advancing Soviet forces with his generals, where Hitler is having dinner and learns of Himmler's betrayal, and where Goebbels vows to his generals that he will never surrender the city of Berlin to the Russians.
By 2010, there were thousands of such parodies, including many in which Hitler is incensed that people keep making Downfall parodies.
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 for making the parodies. Stacy Lee Blackmon, a YouTube user known for maintaining the Hitler Rants Parodies channel, has over 1,651 videos to his name as of October 2017. In an interview with the Swedish magazine show Kobra, Blackmon denied that parody makers are 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 Film has taken an "ambivalent" view of the parodies and has asked video sites to remove many of them. On 21 April 2010, the producers initiated a removal of parody videos from YouTube. This 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, said: "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." Constantin Film went on to produce and distribute the Hitler-themed comedy Look Who's Back (2015), which includes an extended spoof of the oft-parodied scene from Downfall.
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 for sending out a newsletter that linked to a Hitler parody video, mocking JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon.
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