Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, this 2004 film takes us into the madness of Adolf Hitler’s Fuhrerbunker in the last weeks of WW II. As the Russians surround Berlin, we journey into a delusional subterranean world where Hitler and his cronies are living out the last days of the Third Reich.
This film is unique because it is told from the perspective of Traudl Junge who, at the age of 22, became Hitler’s personal secretary. She joins the Fuhrer’s staff in 1942, nine years after Hitler came to power and just in time to witness his and Germany’s destruction. Junge is movingly portrayed by Romanian-born actress Alexandra Maria Lara, but the film opens with footage of the real Junge. Then 80 years old, she is at odds with herself for failing to understand the regime she was working for and the crimes against humanity they were perpetrating, while she wonders how fate could have taken her on a journey she never wanted.
Hitler is portrayed brilliantly by Bruno Gans. The Swiss born Gans, who passed away in 2019, turns in a believable performance as a man breaking down physically and psychologically under unrelenting pressure of knowing that his personal, political and ideological demise is imminent. Gans even looks like Hitler.
In “Downfall,” we witness a Hitler who is completely out of touch with reality. He orders his Generals to attack with non-existent armies, waits for reinforcements that never arrive, all while his most loyal aids plot their escape from what will soon become their coffin. Having given up all hope of survival, many in the bunker turn to drunken partying culminating in suicide, while others, like Junge, broke through the Russian lines and into the hands of the Western allies.
Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch deliver chilling portrayals of Joseph and Magda Goebbels. Both were ardent Nazis, he as the Minister of Propaganda, and both refused to leave Hitler’s side. With the Russians encircling Berlin, they move with their six children, ages 4 through 12, into the bunker. After Hitler’s suicide, Goebbels and his wife poisoned their six children and took their own lives.
Subtitled in English, the film was nominated for an Academy Award as “Best Foreign Language Film.” It won the BBC Four World Cinema competition and was ranked No. 48 in Empire Magazine’s “The Best 100 Films of World Cinema.” Perhaps the UK’s Channel 4 summed it up best, by simply stating, “It’s a happy ending. He dies.”
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For a scene from the movie, click here.
For a brief documentary related to that scene, click here.