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Downfall is, without a doubt, one of the bleakest and most depressing films I've ever seen. Taking place during one of the darkest times in human history, it only makes sense that the film would be as dark as it was. Still, watching these horrific events unfold - rather than reading about them in a textbook - is an experience that's truly made me re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about Nazi Germany. This film, though, doesn't focus on the Allies, Jews, or any neutral group of individuals. Downfall is purely focused on the plight of the leaders of Nazi Germany, particularly during the last twelve days of Hitler's reign. As controversial as this subject may be, the film is able to create an enticing, bleak, and hopeless narrative out of the last days spent in Hitler's private bunker.

As stated, Downfall chronicles the last days spent within Hitler's private bunker by the political elite of Nazi Germany. With a number of important officials and secretaries, including Traudl Junge, Hitler and the rest of the elite attempt to maintain control over Germany for as long as possible. With Russian troops encroaching Berlin, and a sparse number of German troops left anywhere in the vicinity, the people inside Hitler's bunker must make a decision - stay with the Fuhrer until death or escape to freedom.

This film has finally broken one of the greatest taboos in the film industry, and that's by having a German-speaking actor portray Adolf Hitler in a leading role. Usually, in films taking place during WWII, Hitler is either shown through actual film footage, portrayed in a brief and silent role, or portrayed as being a psychotic demon with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. This film, however, dares to not only put Hitler in a starring role, but portray him as being an *actual* human being. It's not asking for understanding or trying to lessen the wickedness of Hitler's deeds, but is simply saying that Adolf Hitler was, in reality, just like anyone else. He was a despicable and sinister person, there's no denying that, but he certainly wasn't the emotionless devil that he's been seen as for the past 50+ years. Hitler was a man who believed in his ideals and, perhaps, truly wanted to bring his country back to its former splendor.

Some have criticized this film's portrayal of Hitler, though, claiming that the film is asking its viewers to "sympathize with and admire" Hitler. I can't say I admired Hitler, as he's still portrayed as being a very delusional figure, but I did, in a way, feel sympathy for the dictator. Not in the way that a friend feels sympathy for a friend, of course, but in the way that one feels sympathy for a dying rabid dog. The dying dog, while still vicious and hideous, must eventually accept its death, and that acceptance of death is virtually always a sympathetic moment.

I can't really say much about character, as the film's obviously based on true events, but the performances in the film are all grand. From the Fuhrer himself to the meek Traudl, everyone in this film remains an interesting cog in this clockwork film. Bruno Ganz, who portrays Hitler in the film, was especially incredible in his role. The voice, the look, the presence, the feel - it was like watching a reborn Hitler.

The visuals in this film look very sleek as well. Whenever outside, the film depicts the world as a living hell, with sulfur-burning fires and plenty of corpses to match the description. The outside world is presented as being chaotic, out of control, and on the brink of collapse to the Russian presence in Berlin. Hitler's bunker, however, is depicted as being claustrophobic, mindnumbing, and filled with unease. It's a great distinction, and the contrast in the film works wonderfully.

If I do have some complaints, however, my first is that the film tends to drag. I understand setting up mood and atmosphere, as it made the film's ending all the more gutwrenching, but the film starts out at a snail's pace. Moving very slowly, the film doesn't pick up until the thirty-minute mark, which isn't too bad for a 2 1/2 hour film. My other complaint is that, while there are plenty of interesting people, the lack of a protagonist left the narrative feeling spread out. I don't mind multiple protagonists either, but this film's completely devoid of one.

Overall, though, Downfall is a bleak, depressing, and gutwrenching film. Its themes of death, destruction, and the annihilation of hope and happiness make this a very sober film, but sometimes the most depressing films are some of the best.





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