Downfall (Der Untergang) is an account of the final weeks of the Third Reich. It begins with the main character, a young woman called Traudl, applying for a secretary job in the Fuhrer’s bunker in Berlin. Two and a half years later the Red Army is closing in on the capital city and Hitler is becoming more and more deluded and depressed.
Bruno Ganz gives an outstanding performance. His depiction helps to form an image of a man who has lost all sense of reality and has given up on his people, who still fight bitterly to save their country from the Soviets who are intent on exacting bloody revenge for the atrocities carried out during the Blitzkrieg. He gives the Fuhrer a human side that makes him seem more evil, if not insane. He helps the viewer to see into his mind. Some of the dialogue from Ganz’s Hitler is shocking as well as revealing and downright frightening.
The most effective parts of the film are how the characters that surround Hitler in his bunker are portrayed. Their fanaticism and faith in the Fuhrer help to make the viewer understand the sheer barbarity and madness that was perpetrated in the name of Nazism and Adolf Hitler. A particularly shocking scene towards the end shows Magda Goebbels, the wife of Joseph Goebbels, giving her children cyanide capsules whilst they sleep because she does not want them to grow up in a world without National Socialism. It also shows many of Hitler’s followers killing themselves in the wake of their leader’s own suicide.
One of the most important aspects of the film, however, is the people who did not share the vicious hateful views of Hitler but simply loved their country, and many of these men and women lived to be old and saw the new Germany that sprung from the ashes of the Third Reich. Albert Speer, played by Henio Ferch, is an example of one of the men who knew that what Hitler was doing was wrong and doomed to fail but still had a bizarre loyalty to the man. We also see Christian Berkel as Dr Ernest-Gunther Schenck, a doctor who stays behind in the city to help his people when the rest of the High Command flee; in his story line we also see how the people of Berlin suffered immensely due to Hitler’s irrational, egotistically stubborn refusal to surrender.
The film is definitely a five-star watch and so important for all those who truly wish to understand why this kind of thing must never happen again.