Downfall [Der Untergang] at Hoyts, Broadway

Downfall was a very powerful film. The performances were excellent, especially Bruno Ganz (Hitler), Ulrich Matthes (Joseph Goebbels) and Corinna Harfouch (Magda Goebbels). And it gave a really, really scary picture of fanaticism – particularly in scenes like the one where Magda Goebbels says there is no point in living in a world without National Socialism. Other really powerful scenes included the one where she killed her children, and the visuals behind Eva Braun’s letter to her sister.

I gather the presentation of some of the characters has been rather controversial. They certainly weren’t painted as monsters, but I don’t think that any of them were glorified either. I though most of them came across as sad and pathetic. However, this presents its own problems, as it does incline you towards feeling sorry for them.

Not Hitler. With everything going wrong for him, you see him refusing to accept it, and making decisions that condemn hundreds to death. He also seems to show a total lack of sympathy for the German people – which is in stark contrast to the reverence you see them holding for him. So even in his more “human” moments – with the dog, for instance – you never really lose sight of what he has done. He’s not a monster, but he’s not sympathetic either.

But it’s a bit different with the others. There’s nothing in the film to remind you of the atrocities they were involved in. So what you see are broken men, who, when they decide to suicide, have a almost a dignity about them. Not glorified, or admirable, or heroic – they are sad, and pathetic, and inadequate. But they are suffering, and the incredibly strong performances really make you feel this. So unless you remind yourself that they were personally responsible for infinitely more suffering in countless others, you do feel sorry for them. You really have to work to keep perspective, and not just be caught up in the pain in front of you.

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