Ryan Anderson reviews the movie that chronicles Hitler's last days and the Fall of Berlin...


“Downfall,” Review by Ryan Anderson

May 5th, 2005

O'Ryan FactorAs Nazi-Germany comes crashing down, Hitler is nowhere to be seen. This is because he has retreated to a private bunker with his trusted inner circle. He’s suffering from what researchers now believe was Parkinson’s. The Fuhrer’s mental capacity seems to be deteriorating, as he insists that the little troops he has left can crush the opposing forces. In his final days the Fuhrer hires Traudl Junge as a personal secretary. All of this is encompassed into the film “Downfall”.

Deep underground in the bunker Hitler’s advisors huddle around him. A map is unraveled in front of him, showing a massive advancement from the red army. The Fuhrer gives the command for forces south of Berlin to attack…but those forces no longer exist. He’s giving commands to armies that aren’t there. However, no action is taken. As if dogs given a command to “fetch”, Hitler is blindly followed…no matter how cold the order. When asked about the German civilians, he chooses to let them die.

The low rumble of Russian artillery above them is constant. Yet spirits are high. Eva Braun throws a party. The defending troops are numbered. Most of them are Children. Hitler congratulates one for destroying a record number of tanks. When a man urges a girl to come inside, she says she has made a pledge to the Fuhrer and her country.

When the time comes, Hitler does realize it’s over. He and Eva Braun retire behind closed doors. There is a gunshot. The Fuhrer is gone. The Goebbels, who decided to stay with Hitler until his last breath, Committed suicide as well, but not before murdering their children. Frau Goebbels puts her children to sleep and returns with cyanide capsules. Shortly after both the Goebbels shoot themselves. In the eyes of most, without a Fuhrer and without National Socialism, all is lost.

Bruno Ganz is powerful as Hitler. This is a character that’s hard to play with human qualities. Yet he does it, and without making us like him. We know Hitler as evil, but to his acquaintances or pet, he was a regular person. In the end, he comes off as a tired old man…and one we’re glad to be rid of.  Alexandra Maria Lara does well as Traudl Junge as well. This girl was thrilled to be secretary to the Fuhrer…and she had no idea what he was capable of.


To this day, it’s amazing how one man could captivate (or hypnotize, perhaps) a whole nation. Traudl Junge says it was “That terrible, terrible charisma of his, all of it serving -- we know it now but didn't then -- his ultimate megalomaniac goal, a race-selected United Europe under German domination.” He had promised so much for the country, and the people willingly gave him their trust. In the end, it was all empty promises.

“After all the despair, all the suffering, not one word of sorrow, of compassion. I remember thinking, he has left us with nothing. A nothing."

“Downfall” was nominated for an academy award for best foreign film this year. It didn’t win, but it should have. It’s certainly one of the greatest war films I have ever seen. If it’s still playing near you I encourage you to see it. If not, wait until its release for home video. This is a unique look at a story that is fascinating by itself.

(****) four out of four stars



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