November 24, 2005

Downfall – A World Gone To Hell

Title:
Der Untergang
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Der Untergang, or Downfall, portrays the final days of Hitler and the Third Reich. Basically, what you see is an empire on its downfall, a once glorious vision reduced to fantasies, an ambitious man reduced to ruins without ever fully realising that he cannot control the world, a group of people forced to make choices for which most of them didn't realise they have in the first place … a world gone mad.

Last week I saw the Korean war drama Tae Guk Gi Hwinalrimyeo (Brotherhood), which tells of two brothers during the 1960 Korean civil war. That one sees a country tear itself apart, people killing their own people, most of them not even knowing at an intellectual level what they were fighting for. It's almost as if everyone's brainwashed, and the result is hell on earth.

Der Untergang does this with a terrible sense of dread. The dread is mostly on the audience, and does not fully descend on the characters (and we are introduced to at least a dozen main ones, which I found very impressive, even in a 156-minute movie) until the final third of the movie. We sense that dread because of what we know today.

We know that Hitler was a monster, and that Berlin would fall.

And in the movie, we are wondering what the hell these people are doing there.

The film is essentially based on the memoirs of Traudl Junge, who serves as a makeshift lead character here, allowing us to see the event through her eyes. At some point we realise that we need to understand her urges to see Hitler as a great man. She was giddy with excitement when she found out that she was to be Hitler's secretary. The less intelligent of the audience members will probably think she and the others are buffoons.

My point is, what is going through the head of Hitler? I think the film brings us closer to understanding it. As many have pointed out, the film humanises Hitler. Now, 'humanising' someone doesn't mean making him nice. It just means that it's showing the fact that YOU COULD HAVE BEEN HIM AS WELL. It all comes down to this fact - Hitler was an ambitious man. (Now, before I continue, let me just say that this is what I think from watching the film ... is Hitler like that in real life? well, history as we know it is never, ever actual truth … do you understand what this means?) He had a grand vision, and I actually found myself thinking, what IS that vision? What does he see in that head of his? Why does it have to involve killing millions of Jews? I'm not a historian so I don't know the context, and I don't really care (really, this film is only gonna occupy my entire being for a rather short period of time, a matter of hours).

Certainly I can understand the feeling when EVERYBODY is letting you down. That is how Hitler sees his world in his final days. Everyone is either betraying him, or not able to execute his orders. Extreme and intense disappointment sets in. He goes into one of his depressive moods – all is lost, it's over, yada yada. So he brings Eva in and they kill themselves. And a scapegoat is born.

I like that the film did not exactly concentrate on him. There's Eva Braun – how is it that she can remain so calm? Cheerful, even. Is she really just chronically naive? And there's Goebbels and his wife – and in this movie, Frau Goebbels really steals the limelight. She insists on staying with Hitler, like many others – along with her kids. 6 of them. All seem to be below the age of 12. She's is a determined woman – my, in today's world, in another movie, she'd be someone you would admire.

She brought the kids there so that she could kill every single one of them. Poison. She could not live in a world in which the Third Reich and the Nazi doesn't exist. A very disciplined woman. She'd rather Hitler live, they might be able to salvage the remains of their world some other time; but if Hitler wants to commit suicide, she would have to bring the kids along with her down with him. I'm sure most of the audience are shocked at that scene, played out over many minutes, yet each minute is compelling. One by one she poisons them.

Among the generals, you see some who seem like they have common sense, who actually considered the consequences on the people of Berlin. And then you get those who only knew how to obey Hitler. To suggest something else is like forcing someone to think out of the box – have you gone mad? Out of the box? Most of the latter committed suicide in the end. So many of them, you get the feeling of them 'dropping like flies'.

And then you get the youth army. So loyal and courageous. They really believed in it all, and were prepared to die defending the city. Such an honourable (read: fun) privilege. So you see this girl with pigtails telling her comrade to shoot her. He shoots. Then he shoots. Two bodies lying on the floor. What would become of them had that not happened?

I doubt anyone would read till this point … in which case, I don't know why I just typed that. When I saw The Pianist for the first time, I was left with feeling like I was about to collapse. Most people saw that film and thought, 'meh, Schandler's whatever was better'. (Fuckers, can't even pronounce the title properly.) However, for me I was really in the moment … every step the pianist took, especially outside, he could be shot for no particular reason. That was frightening … frightening in a way that most of you won't understand because you don't take films as seriously as I do.

Watching this one reminded me again of that fear.

Why?

Because this will probably happen sometime from now. I'd like to find out whether I will be able to live through it.

(Who will start the next war? Corporations? It will probably not be obvious that it's WWIII. You drink your milk and then you fall over dead – chemical in products. Things like that. Basically, something we cannot imagine yet.)

(Can you survive that?)


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