Friday, April 29, 2005

"Downfall" -- the Movie, not the Apocalyse

I don't intend to get into the movie-review business. Every once is a while a great movie needs to be promoted, and this is an opportunity for me to do so.

Downfall is a movie that probably couldn't have been made in USAmerica -- and we are so much the poorer for it. Brad and I say that movie last night, and I am haunted by it still. It is one of the most impressive movies I have seen -- and keep in mind that I see at least one movie a week now.

This German movie concerns the last three days in the life of Adoph Hitler, during which time he was in a bunker in Berlin and at the end of which period he killed himself. It is based on the memoirs of two people (at least one of whom features prominently in the movie) who were there. Most of the movie time is set within the bunker (which neither Brad nor I remembered from our history was in Berlin). But it also includes scenes set outside the bunker in Berlin, showing the onslaught of the Russian forces and the responses by military, militia-like children, and civilians to the pending collapse of the Reich.

The movie communicated a sense of evil in ways that, e.g., Schindler's List only hinted at. It showed the madness that was Hitler, along with the complicity of supposedly sane people. And it portrayed "true believers" with such clarity as to chill my soul.

There were aspects of Kurasawa (one of my favorite directors) -- grand drama, world-collapsed-into-one-room shots, attention to detail -- with features Cecil B. DeMille might have envied. The tension never lets up. The actor who plays Hitler seems to have him bang on (when he's ranting in German, I can certainly recollect recordings of der Fuehrer. But it is, I think, Frau Goebbels who incarnates the evil at foot with the National Socialist movement -- with her absolute devotion to the cause and its "leader" and her ruthlessness and stoic cruelty.

There is some blood, but that's pretty contained -- especially given what it could have been. (On that Germans are apparently more reserved that some USAmerican directors.) But it spectacularly portrays the sense of apocalypse in a way that leaves the Left Behind books choking on its dust. It is "R" rated -- probably more for the intnse situation than for the violence (of which there is admittedly, plenty) or for the sex (of which there is -- in contrast to American movies-- virtually none).

This is a movie best appreciated on the big screen; don't wait for the DVD. It is filmed in such a way as to give the viewer a sense of the claustrophobic environs of the bunker (clever of the director to keep the low ceilings in most of the shots) and of the massiveness of the damage to the city.

This movie did as much as -- or more than -- anything else to help me appreciate the dilemma Bonhoeffer must have felt.

I commend the movie to you. Alas, peace may not be with you for some time after seeing it.

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