Friday, December 16, 2005

Downfall: Movie Review, and Related Thoughts

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.


greensatya said...

I don't think the movie in any way 'humanized' Hitler. It portrayed him as a person with little regard to even his own subordinates and having skewed imagination of reality. A narcissist who was in love with only himself and his idealogies.

While the performace of Traudl Junge was good, but I don't think I can empathize with the character. The movie shows her blind devotion to Hitler as that of Lady Goebbels. I would have wished Junge to see through the reality, which I think she describes (if she was the old lady at the start and end of the movie). I hold each one of them responsible for the most in-human act of your history. This movie has shown how cruel Hitler was, who had no sympathy even for his own countrymen, those ppl who used to call him 'Fuhrer'. He was not compassionate to Jews and not even to Germans.

His 'Anti-Semitism' was nothing just a ploy to make ppl believe in him and in his narcissist activities.

I saw the movie last weekend.

greensatya said...

sorry for the typo

*your* history = our history

Ranjit Nair said...

GreenSatya, Agree with you about most of the points that you observed about Hitler in the movie. However, the movie also displayed (in flashes) his courtesy with women & children, and the charm he could summon up (especially in the interview-scene with Traudl Junge). IMHO, it was an unpleasant reminder that Hitler was not merely a one-dimensional monster, but that he was as human as the rest of us - albeit an utterly insane, raving sociopath. And more than cruel, I think the movie showed us how utterly insane the man was - cruelty is too mild a word for the likes of Hitler.

Traudl Junge was indeed the old lady at the beginning and end - those were excerpts from real interviews. Her palpable anguish at her naivete was touching, I thought. And yes, the actress did a great job at portraying Traudl - guileless & disarming initially, but slowly realizing that Hitler's charisma hid his insanity (especially the dinner scene where Traudl keeps watching Hitler's nervously twitching hand in horror - it was an awesome scene).

I completely agree with your point about Hitler's anti-semitic policies - they were successfully used to appeal to Aryan pride. I also think he started to believe in it himself - a strange sense of projection (that amateur psychology at work, though !!!).

oz said...

Downfall is an interesting movie interms of its execution. Seeing the war from the other side particularly from someone close to the real cause of the war. I had reviewed this movie a while ago, here

Ranjit Nair said...

Oz, completely in agreement with your review. I really admire the idea behind the movie - I mean, imagine an Indian counterpart on the last 3 days before Independence/Partition, with the interplays and politics between Gandhiji, Nehru, Jinnah, Patel, Mountbatten - what an incredible movie that'd make (IF there are no songs and dream sequences inserted!).