Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day 115: Downfall

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #83
Year: 2004
Director: Oliver Hirschbeigel
Starring: Bruno Ganz and Alexandra Maria Lara

Alright, fair warning: This (and the second post, forthcoming tonight) will be a somewhat distracted blog post. Elections were tonight, they didn't go well, I'm angry, I'm disappointed, I'm starting to question a lot of things about my country in general, and my mind is anywhere but on film. But we're gonna truck through, because that's what we (sometimes) do here at Twohundredfifty. I'm a lot of things, ladies and gentlemen, but I'm not a quitter. Today's is an ironically poignant movie for a day when men like Rand Paul assumed high offices in the United States. I'm writing about Downfall, a German film about the last twelve days of Adolf Hitler's life. (Too harsh?) It was incredibly controversial in Germany on its release, as it was the first time that Hitler was the main character in a German film after the fall of the National Socialist Party. Adding more fuel to the fire, many people felt that it painted the F├╝hrer in too much of a sympathetic light. He's seen as a very human leader whose emotions when realizing that the end of the war is near mirror those of anyone dealing with a loss – it's just that his loss is that of a Jew-murdering empire and not, say, a beloved family pet. The problem with these criticisms is that Hitler's personal stenographer, present in his bunker in the weeks leading to his suicide, helped write the script and shared her story with the director, who also did a documentary on the subject. In short, it's all true.

Thanks to the Interweb, Downfall has tragically become famous primarily because of a meme taking a scene from early in the film where Hitler begins to realize that Germany will not be able to win the war and erupts in rage. The subtitles are changed by oh-so-clever YouTubers to be about Hitler getting banned from XBox Live and things of that ilk. Like most things on the Internet, it's funny the first time, but it's now completely irredeemable thanks to being overdone a thousand times over. The scene that it apes is actually one of the best scenes in the film, and one that shows Ganz's incredible range in portraying Hitler. Without a doubt his highly controversial performance is the highlight of the film. One moment he's doting on his dog or Eva Braun, the next he's melting down on the entire German high command, and the next he's blaming his countrymen for the failure of the Third Reich's war efforts and praying that they all die. If this portrayal of Hitler is sympathetic, people have far too much sympathy for bipolar madmen.

If the rest of Downfall was as good as Ganz's performance, the film would be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, in this case, history didn't lend itself all that well to drama. Hitler's last twelve days on Earth were a sadly redundant twelve. At least fifty times, Hitler screams a battle plan that the rest of the high command knows will not work, then sulks about it. At least fifty times, someone says "We will never surrender!" At least fifty times, someone (often Hitler) talks about committing suicide – and, somewhat more visually interestingly, at least fifty people actually commit suicide onscreen. The movie's repetitiveness doesn't take away from its gloomy atmosphere or terrific performances, but it does sink the overall quality quite a few notches. Fascinating subject matter in theory gets you a lot farther than it does in practice.

The Good: Bruno Ganz. How he didn't receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination is beyond me.

The Bad: It's an interesting story, but it would possibly be communicated better by simply reading about it. On film it's way too redundant.

The Skinny: #83 is ridiculous, and probably mostly based on people's awe at Ganz's performance. I'd be comfortable with it in the low 200s simply because of, yes, Ganz's performance, and also the barriers it broke down for the German national cinema regarding portrayals of Nazism and Hitler in particular.


  1. Haven't seen this one. Only the youtube videos.
    But I want to make a little offtopic. What tv series you have watched or watch, Brad?
    I am interested in Twin Peaks the most now, but I am not sure if I will like it. I understand your a Lynch fan, maybe you have seen it?

  2. I only watch TV comedies, actually. I can't really get behind spending soooooo many hours watching plots unfold. I like movies because, at most, you're committing four hours to a story. If you want to watch a show, you're looking at a bare minimum of 20, but usually 100+. So I just watch comedies because you can usually pick up any episode and enjoy it. My favorites are Arrested Development, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Community, and 30 Rock.

    By the way, I looked up my stats for this blog, and, after the US and UK, Latvia comes third in terms of traffic. I feel like I have to thank you for that. ;)

  3. Arrested Development is the greatest comedy show I have seen. Although it took me some time to realise the brilliance of it. Gotta love GOB. "Yeah, the guy with the 4000$ suit is holding the elevator for a guy who doesn't make this in 3 months. COME ON!"
    I don't really like The Office, I don't really find Steve Carell and crew that funny.
    Haven't seen the others, but I think I am looking mostly for drama series :D .

  4. don't want to be a smartass, but it wasn't the first time a german played hitler, but rather the first time hitler appeared as the main character in a german movie.
    by the way ganz isn't even a german actor, he's from switzerland.

  5. Oof, duly noted. Thanks. Fixing it.