Downfall (2004)





Director:   Oliver Hirschbiegel.

Starring:  Bruno Ganz (Adolf Hitler), Alexandra Maria Lara (Traudl Junge), Corinna Harfouch (Magda Goebbels), Ulrich Matthes (Joseph Goebbels), Juliane Khler (Eva Braun), Heino Ferch (Albert Speer), Christian Berkel (Prof. Dr. Ernst-Gnter Schenck), Matthias Habich (Prof. Dr. Werner Haase), Thomas Kretschmann (SS-Gruppenfhrer Hermann Fegelein), Michael Mendl (General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling), Andr Hennicke (SS-Brigadefhrer Wilhelm Mohnke), Ulrich Noethen (Reichsfhrer SS Heinrich Himmler), Birgit Minichmayr (Gerda Christian), Rolf Kanies (General der Infanterie Hans Krebs), Justus von Dohnanyi (General der Infanterie Wilhelm Burgdorf).

nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2005; as of February 2006 it was tied with Das Boot as the highest-ranked German film in the IMDb



I guess one can't really spoil the ending of this film.  I guess just about everybody knows that Hitler and Goebbels die in the end.  So below, most of the movie is spelled out in some detail.

The movie is told from the point of view of Hitler's female secretary, Traudl Humps of Munich.  She is a young woman when she goes to Hitler's bunker in Berlin with four other women for an interview for the secretary position.  And it is almost the end for Hitler and Germany.  The Russians are closing in on Berlin, and more, specifically, Hitler's headquarters.  In an interview with Traudl as an old woman, she wonders why she went for the job for after all, she could have said no.  But she concludes that she was very curious and wanted to see Hitler.  (Is this something akin to the women who write to serial killers in jail and even propose marriage?  Fascination with a dangerous man perhaps. )

She discovers that in private Hitler can be very considerate to young, helpless women.  But two and a half years later, Berlin 20 April 1945 (Adolf Hitler's 56th birthday) Hitler's final days are fast approaching.  The situation for Hitler worsens day by day and Traudl comes to see the other side of Hitler:  the Hitler who becomes enraged to the point of delirium and says the most awful and does the horrible of things. 

The Russian are shelling central Berlin, just 12 km from Hitler.  Hitler, in a rage, demands to know from Burgdorf from where these artillery shells are coming.  Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, already knows that Berlin is lost and he also knows that Hitler will take the whole Reich with him when he goes down.  He is already plotting (with Fegelein, Hitler's brother-in-law) to take over for Hitler when the dictator is killed. 

German soldiers and Hitler's larger staff are packing up everything of value and leaving Berlin.  Himmler tries to get Hitler to leave Berlin and to get in touch with the Allies.  Hitler suspects this is talk of surrender, becomes angry and rejects the idea.  

Hitler is portrayed as an egomaniac who is totally out-of-touch with reality.  While Berlin falls he is talking with his chief architect, Albert Speer, about the future of the city of Berlin.  He actually thinks he can still defeat the Russians. 

His generals try to get the direness of the situation through to him, but in vain.  They state that the 9th army (under Busse) must retreat or it will be wiped out.  Hitler believes that he can use Steiner's division to attack from the north and unite with the 9th.  When objections are given, Hitler responds with the comment that Wenck and his 12th army still support the other forces (but it's already marching west to the Elbe).

Mohnke is in charge of defending the government in Berlin.  The commander asks abut the three million German civilians and gets the answer that there are no civilians in this situation.  (He later says that "If the war is lost, it's immaterial if the people perish too.")

Traudl is getting very worried at this point.  She knows everyone is abandoning Hitler, but says she cannot do that.  And she also cannot go home to face her family who warned her not to get involved with the Nazis.

Amidst all this madness, Eva Braun (Hitler's secret "girlfriend") actually throws a party for Hitler.  Here Fegelein tries to convince his sister-in-law to tell Hitler that they have to leave Berlin.  She won't hear of it.  Traudl is also at the party and she starts to have a panic attack.  A shell explosion brings a sudden end to the brief party. 

General  Mohnke is told to report to Hitler.  He is to be shot for moving his army west, which was strictly forbidden.  But the general has made no movement at all.  He gets permission to talk with Hitler, who puts him in charge of the defense of Berlin. 

The Russians have now taken Zossen to the south and are advancing to Stahnsdorf.  Hitler says that Steiner's assault will bring it all under control.  And even the poor secretaries also believe this.  The generals tell Hitler that Steiner did not make the assault because he did not have enough men.  Hitler orders everyone out of the meeting room, except Keitel, Jodl, Krebs and Burgdorf (with Goebbels in the background).  (Hitler goes bonkers and everyone in the outside hall can hear his rants about traitors and cowards. And he finally admits that the war is lost.  But he will not surrender!) Hitler offers Traudl a way out of Berlin, but she refuses to go saying she will stay with the fuehrer. 

Fegelein tries to talk some sense into the generals and general staff, but too many of them remain loyal to Hitler. 

Goering, head of the Luftwaffe (German air force), makes plans of what to do after Hitler is dead and Hitler goes bonkers again, accusing him of treason.  He wants the traitor arrested and executed.

Traudl finally starts thinking about getting out of Berlin.  She is absolutely shocked when she learns that the Goebbels intend to commit suicide along with their six children. 

Hitler learns that Himmler has betrayed him by seeking a truce with the Allies.  Hitler becomes even more enraged than ever.  He demands to see Fegelein, but he appears to have gone AWOL.  Hitler goes into a delirium saying that he will still defeat the Russians by getting them into a pincer movement.  Fegelein is found and arrested.  Eva pleads for his life, but to no avail.  He has his brother-in-law shot. 

Hitler is down to just two days left.  He still maintains that the 12th and 9th armies will unite.  He consoles himself with "Wenck is coming."

Hitler and Eva Braun marry.  (This is not discussed but some believe that Hitler was a homosexual.  All signs indicate that he never had sex with Eva Braun, not even after they were married. That may be one reason why he treated the woman so badly.)

Hitler now has only about 20 hours left.  The Russians are just a few hundred meters away.  The next day he receive Keite''s Wench is stuck, the 12th army cannot come to the rescue.  The 9th army is encircled.  He still forbids his commanders to surrender.  He finally tells his aide that he and his wife will commit suicide and he wants the aide to burn their bodies. 

Traudl is still there when the Hitlers kill themselves.  And she is still there when the Goebbels eliminate their entire family.  (Traudl made the children sandwiches before their deaths.)

Now the only unknown is: will Traudl and the other secretaries finally get away from the madness of Hitler and get to safety? 

The movie is a good one.  It is interesting to see the final days of Hitler through the eyes of his personal secretary.  It's also interesting to see the portrayal of Hitler: enraged, delusional, in delirium.  It couldn't have happened to a nicer fellow.  On his death, one can only think good riddance to the worst villain in human history!!  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




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