Downfall is one of those rare films that holds you spellbound, despite its culmination being known upfront. The movie takes on the ambitious task of humanizing the much-vilified Adolf Hitler. Over the course of 145 minutes, the film explores the fall of the Third Reich, at the same time affording us an insight into Hitler's psyche. As a cornered Hitler descends further and further into apoplectic fits of rage, the film also depicts a crumbling Berlin and the growing indiscipline in the ranks.
The film succeeds in making one empathize with the young secretary Traudl Junge, who delivers a charming performance. Eva Braun is shown making merry most of the time, despite the growing uncertainty of the collective fate of the Third Reich. However, there's a marvelous scene featuring Eva Braun, where she looks speculativey into the mirror and then smiles ambiguously - as if to imply that she fully knows, and calmly accepts what lies ahead of her. One of the most haunting scenes of the movie is Magda Goebbels giving all of her children sleeping draughts (even forcing it down the throat of the oldest child, who suspects what her mother intends to do), and then inserting a cyanide capsule into their mouths and forcing their jaws closed to bite the capsule with a sickening crunch - apparently, she strongly felt that her children need not - NEED NOT - grow up in a world with no National Socialism.
The film, however, belongs to Bruno Ganz, who plays Hitler to perfection. Sweet and charming with the women and children, he flies into rages every time something goes wrong. With the twitching left hand, the spittle running down the jaw during his famous temper tantrums and the solitary tear running down the cheek when the last of his trusted lieutenants deserts him, Ganz manages to carry off the impossible - evoke a tiny twinge of sympathy for one of the most loathed figures in contemporary history. Long after everybody accepts that the war is a lost cause, Hitler continues to indulge in impossible dreams of a final truimph. He eschews the inevitable, and fingering vast maps lovingly, conjures up armies that can cut in and carry off a brilliant coup de main. In a telling scene, in one of his sane moments Hitler confesses that irrespective of the outcome, he is proudest of the fact that he managed to 'exterminate the Jews'.
It is impossible that there are still people who admire and respect somebody who single-handedly caused the destruction of more than 6 million jews. But then, in our own country, people who directed racial policies that directed the genocide of more than 5000 Muslims (at least) lead prominent political parties. I think that's the most disturbing thing about all this - an appeal to a supposedly injured sense of collective pride - whether it be Aryan, Hindu or Muslim pride - still finds followers from a group every bit as racist and/or xenophobic as the Nazis were - an appalling thought, but true nonetheless, I feel.