Pin It
Favorite

Take Two 

by Mark Savlov


It's disconcerting to watch Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Adolf Hitler, which ricochets from moments of quiet introspection to lunatic flights of paranoiac ranting and back again in the dead space between heartbeats. Ganz is perhaps best known to American audiences as Damiel, the lovesick engel who longs to be mortal in Wim Wenders' hauntingly lyrical Wings of Desire, and to see him here as the devil made flesh makes your mind ache and confuses the heart. The confusion, thankfully, cannot persist in the face of Ganz's finely calibrated performance, which, like it or not, is probably the single most accurate Hitler yet committed to film. Ganz is in his mid-60s now, roughly 10 years older than the Fuhrer was when he put a gun to the head of his new bride, Eva Braun (Juliane K & ouml;hler), and then took his own life on April 30, 1945; his Hitler looks haggard and jittery, with palsied hands and stooped shoulders, but it feels right. Watching him, you think, "This must have been how it was."


The Oscar-nominated Downfall (Der Untergang), which chronicles the final days of Hitler's Reich, is set almost entirely inside the claustrophobic command bunker far below the ruined streets of Berlin. It owes much of its creepy verisimilitude to the memories of Hitler's personal secretary, Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), who survived history and was the subject of the excellent and equally disturbing documentary Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary in 2002.


Hirschbiegel's film is less interested in the whys of the Third Reich than in how the assembled leaders and adjutants -- among them Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes); his wife, Magda (Corinna Harfouch); their six children (all blond and blue-eyed and remarkably, horrifically, like the Children of the Damned; and Reich architect Albert Speer (Heino Ferch) -- reacted to their imminent defeat at the hands of the Russian army. While Hitler plots to sway the tide of battle to his favor via phantom storm trooper divisions that either no longer exist or are severely outnumbered, the true believers rally to his side and then, once out of earshot, deride the man as mad and ponder their fates with angst-ridden faces.


Much has been made about the film's "humanizing" of Hitler, but he's only human here in the most prosaic of terms. This shouty little lunatic is more monstrous id than anything remotely resembling a well-balanced military leader, and this renders his sporadic acts of grandfatherly kindness (to his dog Blondi, to his secretary Traudl) all the more frightening.


Ganz's Hitler is a soulless, emotionally bankrupt madman, but it's Matthes' Goebbels who finally lodges in your memory. Skeleton-gaunt and with a piercing gaze, Goebbels is the hellish, unquenchable fire in the belly of the dying beast. His ultimate murderous action, performed along with his wife, is the most disturbing sequence in a film already overflowing with bad mojo; if anything, he out-evils Ganz's ill-tempered and deranged Hitler. It's a performance so dark in its utter absence of morality that it makes everything else pale by comparison. It's all the more powerful because Downfall doesn't concern itself with explanations. Goebbels, like Hitler, was simply evil, indefinable, ultimately unknowable, and thankfully doomed.





Publication date: 04/28/05

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • In Defense of Refugees
  • In Defense of Refugees

    In the aftermath of the presidential election, local residents seek ways to love and support their refugee friends
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • No License to Kill
  • No License to Kill

    Task force says officers should be held responsible for police shootings; plus, state auditor clears Spokane Valley firing of city manager
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Trumped-up Education
  • Trumped-up Education

    Could the President-elect's support of school choice trickle down to Spokane?
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun
Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science

Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 6

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Mark Savlov

  • Horror-ified History
  • Horror-ified History

    Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter turns the storied president into an axe-wielding badass
    • Jun 26, 2012
  • Take Two

    XXX is dead; long live XXX. Xander Cage, the former super-agent/bad-ass of 2002's Rob Cohen-directed XXX, has been killed in the line of kickassery, and so NSA spookster Augustus Gibbons (a scarified Samuel L. Jackson) recruits one of his o
    • May 5, 2005
  • Caribbean Caper

    The man behind the Rush Hour franchise proves that dropping sly nods in Alfred Hitchcock's direction does not necessarily a fine caper make. While a couple of references to the master's 1955 classic To Catch a Thief crop up in this inane-ye
    • Nov 18, 2004
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Unfinished Business

    Isaiah Wall wants to get his life on track. But first, he's gotta buy drugs for the police
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • This Isn't Normal

    America has gone down this road before, and it's a dead end
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

Briefs


green zone


marijuana


trail mix


election 2016


Readers also liked…

  • This Old House
  • This Old House

    If it could talk, it could tell stories of three generations, along with a lot of griping from neighbors
    • Apr 29, 2015
  • The <i>Real</i> Rachel Dolezal
  • The Real Rachel Dolezal

    The story goes far beyond just a white woman portraying herself as black
    • Jun 17, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation