Review: Der Untergang (2004)

Der Untergang (2004)

Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel | 150 minutes | drama, war | Actors: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Köhler, Heino Ferch, Christian Berkel, Matthias Habich, Thomas Kretschmann, Michael Mendl, André Hennicke, Ulrich Noethen, Birgit Minichmayr, Rolf Kanies, Justus von Dohnanyi

He has greasy hair, nervous ticks, a trailing step and a sad, lonely look. He is fifty-six years old, a vegetarian and a teetotaler. His only pastime is feeding his herding dog Blondi. This man’s name is Adolf Hitler, who had ruled Europe for five years in a war that killed fifty million people.

He doesn’t know that war. When he takes a breather in the courtyard of the Reich Chancellery, deep in his black leather overcoat, he looks like a phantom, invisible to the outside world, which is being ripped to pieces. Back in his study, he slides across maps with non-existent armies, on his way to victory, aggressively lashing out at anyone who can help him out of his dream. The dream that also founded the morbid Third Reich.

The naive, insecure girl who was Germany in 1933 allowed herself to be seduced by Adolf Hitler. That girl could be Traudl Junge, a bleue Bavarian who interviewed the Führer sometime in 1942 to be his secretary, with a mixture of fear and awe on her face. In the years that followed Bleu, she types the most frightening texts on paper. On her face the despair, but she never renounces.

Was there cause for fear? Not if we have to rely on the images of ‘Der Untergang’. Hitler calls Traudl ‘mein Kind’ and she is one of the few to receive a suicide ampoule from him. By order of the Führer? No, at your own request. Hitler even urges her to seek a safe haven. She doesn’t want that.

This is the woman who should evoke sympathy in ‘Der Untergang’, a haunting and mentally exhausting epic about the last days in Hitler’s bunker. A daring choice by the filmmakers, escalating in the moment that they let Traudl flee hand in hand with a German child soldier through Russian lines to a sunny forest.

This sentimental dramatization is a blemish on the film, which succeeds particularly well in portraying the demise of its core figure. Like Hitler, the horribly impressive Bruno Ganz arouses as much pity as it is disgusted. How could this self-imposed tragic hero drag an entire nation into his own depths? It is a question that remains unanswered even after this film, but which reverberates more deeply.

With Hitler’s death – we don’t get to see the body – ‘Der Untergang’ could have ended. But director Oliver Hirschbiegel and screenwriter Bernd Eichinger continue; they did not want to do the German people a disservice. That works well for the first three quarters of the film. They contrast the paranoid Nazi cocoon underground with the real suffering in the open air, with doctor Schleck (Christian Berkel) as the Nazi saving civilian lives, while his ‘genossen’ retreat. It gets tricky at the end. Apart from the Goebbels couple, Hitler’s aides come off reasonably positive. After his death they want to fight bravely for Germany, although at the moment of attack they are saved by the gong of the director: the message of total capitulation.

Bruno Ganz’s playing makes up for a lot in this film. The character studies of Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler) and Magda Goebbels (Corinna Harfouch), who kill her own children, are as macabre as they are impressive. Opting for Traudl Junge as German hope for the future, on the other hand, is risky.

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