Monday, October 31, 2005

Downfall * * * * *

"One of the best war movies ever made" is how this amazing movie has been repeatedly described. This movie ranks up with Saving Private Ryan and Das Boot, as a 'must see' movies about WWII. It follows the final days of the fall of Berlin -- the days just before Hitler commits suicide. The focus is mainly on Hitler and the events within his bunker-complex, although there are some scenes set outside in Berlin to give you a feel for what was happening in the city. The actor who plays Hitler is very good; he give an compelling performance. And the other actors and actresses give fantastic performances also.

This is not a rah-rah war movie. The movie feels like a artistic vomit of the post-WWII generation's anger at the Nazis and of hatred towards Hitler. Listen to the interviews with the cast and director, and you can hear this hatred, but mixed with another emotion, the desire to forgive in order to move on. And yet the inability to forgive. Don't get me wrong; the movie is not preachy in any way. It is just so gritty and the portrayal of Hitler is so mesmerizing -- especially as he declares that the German people, all of them, must be sacrificed for the greater battle and that those who cannot fight are worthless, no less than worthless. Watch the trailer (below) and you'll see what I mean. It makes your skin crawl.

My personal reflections...I studied German for 2 years at Stanford and then spent a 3 months in West Berlin (this was long before the wall came down) and later worked 3 months in Stuttgart. I have always been captivated by the concept of evil actions committed by good people and perhaps because of that, with the meaning of forgiveness -- or said another way, specifically how individuals deal with unforgiveable sins (for lack of a better word) that they themselves or those they care about have committed. And for me, being in Berlin in the 1980s was especially interesting. I would sit for hours just watching West Berlin. Or I would just walk and watch -- and ponder how this nation emotionally, philophically, and morally dealt with WWII. I have since read, and I'm not German so I don't know how true this is, that during the late 1970s/1980s, younger Germans were really coming to grips with the Nazi atrocities in the 1980s and questioning the older generation. Right before I came to West Berlin, there was the historic speech by the German President delivered at the Bundestag on May 8, 1985, he declared that the day the "Deutsche Reich" submitted to an unconditional surrender was a "Tag der Befreiung," or a "day of liberation" for Germans. This was a huge thing to say; it was repudiating the whole idea of the capitulation as a defeat for the German people, which of course was the common view after the war. He continued on: "Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection." West Berlin, at least in the 1980s, was full of young Germans (you could escape the draft by living there, I believe) and intelligensia. So this climate of moral searching and public self-reflection, was a huge part of what I was absorbing while in West Berlin. These sort of notions were and are still viscerally fascinating to me.

The movie trailer:

Labels: ,