Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


(Der Untergang, Germany, 2004)

The story of Hitler’s last days in the Berlin Bunker. This story has been fictionalized at least once before in 1973 with Alec Guinness playing Der Fuhrer, in Hitler: The Last Ten Days, and in countless documentaries, and though the reviews were way beyond excellent (it currently sits at an astonishing #59 on the IMDb’s Top list), I kept wondering: What new could there be to say about this sorry final chapter of the Third Reich?

I’m still wondering. The sort-of main character is Traudl Junge, who typed and took dictation for Adolf for about three years, beginning when she was 22. Frau Junge went on to make a good living in documentaries. I first saw her telling her story in Thames Television’s excellent World at War series. She’s in most of the other major retrospectives, and even had a movie made all about her: Blind Spot. Hitler’s Secretary. The real Traudl appears in this film, now in her 80s (she died in 2002), at the beginning and at the end. She says she excused herself for years by saying that she was young and stupid, as we all are at 22. But she say’s she no longer thinks that is enough. I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t have behaved any better, but that doesn’t make me like her. Lay down in pigshit, don’t be surprised if the stink clings, I say.
In fact, the central problem here is the absolute, total lack of rooting interest. That, and if you know any history at all you know exactly how it all comes out. It takes two hours to get to the good parts, where Hitler and Eva kill themselves, and we don’t even get to see it. Then there’s still half an hour to go. While it’s fun to see Nazi soldiers blow their own heads off, it’s not enough.

I’m kidding, a little … but I sure could have done without the scene where Maggie Goebbels kills all six of her kids with cyanide. You just really want to see her die. There was some critical discussion of whether it was a good idea to portray Hitler as so … human. Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? Nobody would follow an obvious slobbering maniac. The man had charisma, and he loved dogs and little Aryan children while killing millions of innocents. Bruno Ganz plays him very well, from sloppy Teutonic sentimentality to slavering rage to palsied helplessness. I doubt that anyone can ever explain to me how this man led a nation of millions of well-educated, “civilized” people down through the gates of Hell, goose-stepping and cheering, but I don’t understand how 50 million Americans voted for George W. Bush, either … and then did it again!

I will say this for the Germans, though. They have consistently owned up to their war crimes, not tried to minimize or even deny them, as the Japanese are doing to this day.