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Helmuth Weidling: "My Führer, as a soldier I suggest we try to break through the encirclement. During the fight for Berlin we've already lost 15 - 20,000 of the younger officers."
Downfall (German, Der Untergang) is a dramatic film from 2004 set around the last days of Nazi Germany, as the Soviets invade and destroy Berlin, and the senior Nazi leadership are just waiting around to die.
It is primarily based on the memoirs of Traudl Junge, one of Adolf Hitler's secretaries, and is one of the most accurate portrayals of the last, desperate days of the Third Reich and its effects on Hitler, his closest aides, and ordinary Germans, though the ending has been criticized for implying that little or no harm came to the surviving women in the bunker, as opposed to the widely promoted allegation that many of them were raped or brutalized by the Soviet soldiers.
Not to be confused with the ABC big-money prize-smashing game show of the same title. Or the board game of the same name.
Downfall contains examples of:
- Affably Evil: Hitler at times, though Himmler fits the trope better.
- Anti-Villain: Averted - see But Not Too Evil. Hitler is shown as a three-dimensional character, not just doing it For the Evulz, but only to highlight the monstrous evil of the Third Reich. As Roger Ebert said of the movie:
"Sympathy I felt in the sense that I would feel it for a rabid dog, while accepting that it must be destroyed [...] As we regard this broken and pathetic Hitler, we realize that he did not alone create the Third Reich, but was the focus for a spontaneous uprising by many of the German people, fueled by racism, xenophobia, grandiosity and fear."
- Ate His Gun: The Movie.
- Just to be clear, this isn't just because the movie is about specifically Hitler's final ten days and suicide. While that is one of the bigger moments fitting this trope, throughout the entire movie, as the Soviet army closes in on Berlin, characters are committing suicide every few minutes. Many characters sitting around in the bunker casually discuss the best method for committing suicide, very calmly as a means of maintaining emotional control over the situation. At a rough count, at least a dozen characters kill themselves throughout the movie. Ironically, of these only one minor character actually does this by firing the gun inside his mouth, most of the others shot themselves in the temple - historically, we know that Hitler couldn't have been literally placing the gun inside his mouth, because he was simultaneously biting down on a cyanide capsule.
- Big Sleep: Magda Goebbels drugs her children into unconsciousness, then forces them to ingest cyanide by placing a vial in their mouths and forcing their jaws shut. The only sign of their death is a shudder. Unrealistic (even the most heavily drugged cyanide victim will usually thrash violently, if only for a few seconds) but justified for dramatic purposes.
- Bowdlerization: The ending. Gerda Christian and Else Krüger were raped by soldiers of the Red Army, as opposed to walking calmly through their ranks holding the hand of a fictional Nazi Youth boy. The filmmakers knew this, but they felt that the audience deserved something a bit uplifting by this point.
- Book Ends: The movie begins and ends with excerpts from a video-interview with the real-life Traudl Junge, taken a matter of months before she died in 2002 (two years before Der Untegang was released).
- Braids of Action: The female Child Soldier operating the flak gun has long, blond, twin braids.
- But Not Too Evil: Some reviewers criticized the movie for being sympathetic towards Hitler, though he is in fact portrayed as a cruel, petty, ineffectual leader who consistently blames his own subordinates for his own mistakes, cracks up under pressure, and is willing to bring Germany down with him.
- Essentially, the film portrays Hitler much as he truly was: not a nameless, faceless force of unrelenting malevolence, but as a human being. A human being who is capable of displaying kindness to people he likes, but at the same time, genocidal hatred and paranoia towards other people, and who believed that complete cruelty and utter dominance was the way to victory.
- Child Soldiers: The Germans are so short of troops that they're using children. One particular scene has Hitler inspecting a line of kids and giving them medals.
- This scene is essentially a recreation of well-known newsreel footage of Hitler doing just that on his birthday on 20 April 1945.
- Contrast Montage: Eva Braun's inner monologue narrates a letter she is typing to her family, calmly asking family members to redeem items and pay off debts at shops that have long since been destroyed, and that she hopes to send a care package with chocolate as well as some tobacco for her father. The almost cheerful narration of her letter is played over a montage of death and destruction as Berlin is blown to pieces, and under-equipped doctors perform amputations in overcrowded bomb shelters, and the Soviet Army overruns the German defences. Particularly harrowing is that during the part where she's absent-mindedly talking about sending some chocolate, a squad of child soldiers (including a teenaged schoolgirl with braided hair) who are being overrun start turning their guns on their squadmates to save them from a more grisly death at the hands of the vengeful Soviets. After the teenaged boy who was recently promoted to being an officer to command these children shoots the girl as she salutes him, he stumbles around horrified for a few seconds, then blows his own brains out with his pistol. All of this happens without pause as Eva's narration keeps going on about the care package.
- Crapsack World: Berlin is being bombed and shelled into a smoking ruin by a ruthless enemy determined to make Germany pay for the war of annihilation they started on them and there is no escape from the top to the bottom for its inhabitants.
- Cyanide Pill: They're handed out like candy throughout the film. Most affectingly, Frau Goebbels forces her (sedated) children to take cyanide.
- Deadly Distant Finale: The end explains how each of the characters lived their lives after the events of the movie, and how they died, if they did die.
- Demoted to Extra: You'd think Goering, being the Luftwaffe commander and a very high-profile member of Hitler's inner circle, would have a big role, right? Nope! He gets one, non-speaking appearance, and that's it.
- Despair Event Horizon:
- The film is basically one long chain of these. Watching how individual people deal with their inevitable, total, and deserved defeats is a major theme. Every major character has at least one scene where they finally break. Hitler has about half a dozen.
- Hitler's biggest one is most likely when he receives news that Himmler is attempting to negotiate a surrender of Germany. Hitler, who always believed Himmler to be his most loyal follower, regarded this as the ultimate form of betrayal. He has a big explosion earlier in the film when told that Steiner could not mount a counter-attack (outnumbered ten to one, Hitler ordered him to attack with units that simply no longer existed): this is the scene most famously used in the internet parodies, when even Hitler finally realizes the war is truly lost. However, a little while after this Hitler cracks under the pressure and becomes truly delusional, insisting that a different and even less probable counter-attack by Wenck's army will occur. The scene when he's informed that Himmler has been trying to negotiate with Eisenhower for surrender is the final point when he stops see-sawing back and forth to delusional hope, and begins actively planning to commit suicide.
- The Determinator: The German soldiers, and several of the higher ranking officers in Hitler's circle. They genuinely believe that the final victory is coming, and when people tell them that it's hopeless, they practically accuse them of treason.
- The Ditz: Eva Braun; though, to be fair, she was doing a lot of it for the sake of whatever morale was left. It is unlikely that even she had even an iota of hope that the Wehrmacht's military situation wasn't completely hopeless. Most notable in the Contrast Montage where she's typing out her will against a scene of death and destruction — asking her friends to redeem items from stores that have long since been smashed to rubble.
- Driven to Suicide:
- Truth in Television, as many hardcore Nazis killed themselves rather than face justice or revenge, or a world without National Socialism, or even a world where Jews, Gypsies and other minorities are considered anything but subhuman.
- Subverted in one scene where a unit filled with supposedly hardcore die-hards make a big deal about the fact that they're all either going to die fighting or kill themselves to avoid dishonour. Moments later, a messenger soberly brings the news that the German High Command has surrendered and the war is over... and only one or two of them actually go through with it, the others just left stunned but with no apparent intention of killing themselves.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: A good chunk of the characters are the leaders and senior member of the Nazi party, they're also people with spouses and families.
- Face Death with Dignity: Fegelein, dragged out of a woman's bed to be summarily executed by the SS, takes a moment to button up his tunic and give the Nazi salute before being shot.
- Fate Worse Than Death: General Helmuth Weidling got a pint of this: Hitler orders his execution on assumption that he moved his command post to the west. After his attempt to solve the misunderstanding, Hitler was impressed and appointed him as commander of the defense of Berlin.
Weidling: "I'd have preferred to be shot!"
- Folk Hero: The picture Hitler looks at in one scene is King Frederick II of Prussia, who was an idol to him. King Frederick was also once saved by a last-minute turn of events, something Hitler hoped for himself.
- Foregone Conclusion: And they know it.
- Friend to All Children: Hitler, of all people, appears as this: The Goebbels' children are obviously fond of him.
- Gag Sub: While the dialogue in the movie is faithfully rendered, it is nevertheless quite possibly the king, thanks to fanmade videos all over YouTube.
- The Ghost: Steiner.
- Glasses Pull: In the infamous Hitler rant scene.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Hitler himself, along with Goebbels and his wife. Two generals, too. Oddly enough, subverted when it comes to a random Mook.
- Harmful to Minors: See Infant Immortality below.
- Heel Realization: In the real Traudl Junge's interview at the end of the film, she confesses that she had this moment when she finally learned that the great German resistance heroine, Sophie Scholl, was younger than herself and she knew what was going on in the Third Reich and had the conscience and backbone to do something while Junge did nothing.
- Herr Doktor:
- Even though you're liable to get shivers the moment you see a Nazi in a lab coat, Dr. Ernst-Günther Schenck turns out to be the most heroic character in the film, putting his concern for civilians above his orders from the SS. The real Schenck bordered on being little more than a Punch Clock Villain, but he engaged in human experimentation.
- Grawitz, the head of the German Red Cross who was simultaneously one of the leading planners of the Nazi human experimentation program (directly responsible for wounding prisoners and intentionally infecting them with gangrene to test treatments on them) appears in the film, but as opposed to a menacing hands-on surgeon, he's portrayed (much as he arguably was) as a cowardly fat bureaucrat, begging Hitler to allow him to flee Berlin rather than face justice at the hands of the Red Army. He takes the coward's way out by killing himself and his entire family with grenades while they're eating dinner (because he knew the Soviets would exact his punishment on his family as well).
- Hey, It's That Guy!:
- Some in the western audience may notice that Rolf Kanies, who plays Hans Krebs (and is thus even in the infamous rant scene) also played an extremely blatant parody of George W. Bush in cult-favorite Lexx some years back. It's amusing to watch his scenes from Lexx again after this.
- Thomas Kretschmann as Hermann Fegelein. Astute viewers may recognise him from the 2005 King Kong. He later had a part in Valkyrie as Otto Remer. He also portrayed a "good Nazi" in The Pianist
- Christian Berkel as Dr. Schenck. He was also in Valkyrie as von Quirnheim.
- Anyone who would later see The Reader would instantly recognize the Law professor as Hitler. But given how well Bruno Ganz did in this movie, it's hard not to, despite his bit part in the latter film.
- Traudl Junge also appears in The Reader for a few small scenes; she's the daughter of the Jewish woman who survived the fire and is present during the court scenes later in the film.
- Otto Günsche is Mr. Stamper. Heck, he even shares one name with him (although it's a first name now - Gotz Otto).
- Historical Beauty Update: Compare the real Traudl Junge, with this one.
- Historical Domain Character: All of the principal players except for the little boy pressed into combat with the Hitler Youth. He is shown as one of the child soldiers that Hitler comes out to greet on his birthday, but the real little boy that Hitler rather creepily caressed, one Alfred Czech, has no connection with the film character.
- Hitler Ate Sugar: Averted. Hitler does a lot of fairly common human things while he holds out as long as he can, despite the horrifying and richly deserved circumstances.
- Hollywood Light Bulb: The fuhrerbunker is lit entirely with photo floods.
- Hopeless War: That is the situation with Nazi Germany with its capital under direct siege with the Soviets relentlessly advancing through the city and Hitler's forces have no hope of stopping them.
- Improperly Placed Firearms: Generally averted, though some German soldiers are seen carrying post-WW 2 Soviet AK-47's instead of the STG44 (the first assault rifle). Somewhat justified since the two look alike and the movie was made on a shoestring budget.
- Infant Immortality: Averted. Around a dozen children die on-screen over the course of the film.
- I've Come Too Far...: Spoken by Hitler himself during the infamous rant.
- It Got Worse: And worse... and worse... and worse...
- Kick the Dog: Blondi is forced to test Hitler's cyanide pills, to see if they worked. Eva Braun admits to kicking Blondi on occasion, because she doesn't like her, which ironically serves as a Pet the Dog moment for her as she bonds with Traudl.
- The Napoleon: Hitler, especially when he's next to his towering adjutant Günsche (played by 198cm Gotz Otto). It doesn't help that Hitler is permanently hunched over as a result of his Villainous Breakdown, and that often he's the only one sitting down while everyone else has to stand.
- Last Sane Man: Filled by several of the viewpoint characters, usually by Traudl Junge throughout most of the movie (particularly when she realizes how absurd Eva's partying is while shells are falling on buildings around them). Albert Speer is one during his brief stay in the bunker, desperately trying to insist to Hitler that his scorched-earth orders are insane, ultimately revealing that he couldn't bring himself to implement such a suicidal order. At this point, even Traudl still vaguely hopes that the war is not lost, because she spends so much time with Hitler who rants that it is not. Speer has to one-up Traudl's "Last Sane Man" delivery at this point, making her finally realize that even Hitler knows the war is lost, or is flat-out delusional.
- Last Stand: By the scattered and disorganized remnants of the Heer, SS, and Volkssturm.
- Lonely Piano Piece: In The Courtyard of the Reich Chancellery by Stephan Zacharias. Part of the film's Crowning Music of Awesome.
- Manipulative Bastard: Adolf Hitler. Throughout the film, he shamelessly exploits the unwavering loyalty of his subordinates to make them feel compelled to join him in death during the final hours of the Nazi regime.
- Mama Bear/Papa Wolf: Subverted. Many parents in this film kill themselves and their own children.
- Offing the Offspring:
- Magda Goebells kills her own children because of a political ideology. The film's portrayal differs from Real Life; a Soviet autopsy performed on Helga's body showed numerous large black and blue bruises, indicating that she may have woken up and struggled with her killer.
- Ernst-Robert Grawitz commits suicide in his apartment during dinner with his wife and three children--by detonating a grenade and killing his family along with him. Also an example of Pater Familicide.
- Pet the Dog: The opening scene where Hitler plays the friendly uncle whilst interviewing a nervous group of women for a new secretary. At one point, he literally pets his dog, Blondi, before testing Traudl's abilities as a secretary.
- Pretty Little Headshots: They're less pretty than most, but still under-done.
- Refuge in Audacity: the Nazis didn't invent propaganda but they refined it to previously unseen levels, and even coined the term "Big Lie" (itself a variation of this trope), where the gullible populace believes in even the most absurd statements made by a trusted public figure. Simply put, people are used to hearing smaller, daily lies, particularly from politicians (e.g. "we will lower taxes by a few percentage points" or "rations will get slightly better soon"). In contrast, they won't question so audacious a lie such as "a giant communist conspiracy is trying to destroy Germany" or "we're about to win the war through a massive sneak attack". The "Big Lie" plays on people's sense of what is counter-intuitive. Early in the film, even Hitler honestly seems to believe that a massive pincer attack from the north and south, or at least a counterattack by Felix Steiner, can drive the Soviets out. The generals and SS officers know all too well that the war is lost, but what's truly frightening is that the majority of ground soldiers (particularly young ones), even quite late in the film, honestly believe Hitler's words that the war isn't yet lost... simply because they don't understand just how far off the deep end he went.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Fegelein, Speer, Himmler, among others.
- Shout-Out: The poster (see the page image) and several of the opening scenes are framed in direct homage to several of the last known photographs of Adolf Hitler before he killed himself.
- Sidelong Glance Biopic
- The Starscream:
- Himmler plans to secretly negotiate with the Allies, and his greatest concern is whether to greet General Eisenhower with the Nazi salute or a handshake. Too bad the only choice he was left with was death by hanging or by Cyanide Pill in his prison cell.
- Hitler starts seeing Starscreams all around him (to greater or lesser degrees of accuracy), blaming defeat on everyone but himself.
- Screw the War, We're Partying: Eva Braun engineers vast parties to distract Hitler and their friends to avoid the reality of Germany's defeat.
- Simple Score of Sadness: And how.
- Sound-Only Death: The suicides of Hitler and Eva Braun, the Goebbels couple and some other Nazi bigwigs.
- Stepford Smiler:
- Eva continues smiling even when things are at their bleakest. It might be a bit of a subversion in that she insists that she really is happy, in spite of it all, with no regrets and unafraid to die.
- The party scene in the bunker, where there's a palpable sense of dread and forced merriment, with people forcing smiles and continuing to dance and trying to act happy as the bombing gets louder and louder.
- Supervillain Lair: The genuine article, the Führerbunker.
- Sympathy for the Devil: See the quote under Anti-Villain.
- Taking You with Me: Hitler's final plan basically amounted to scorched earth, destroying Germany's infrastructure and abandoning its people to the caprices of the Red Army. He felt they "failed him".
- Tanks, But No Tanks: Despite the generally high levels of historical accuracy in uniforms and equipment, there is a scene that includes one very poor mock-up of a Tiger tank, which is quite jarring. Averted in the use of actual T-34/85s by the Soviets.
- This Cannot Be!
- This Is What Berlin Will (Never) Look Like
- Those Wacky Nazis: As Villain Protagonists.
- Title Drop: At Hitler's birthday reception, when Fegelein and Himmler pleads he evacuate.
Hitler: "I will defeat them in Berlin, or face my downfall."
- Truth in Television: Mostly. The points where it fails to live up to history are usually the brightest parts of the film.
- Villainous Breakdown/Chewing the Scenery:
- The movie focuses on the last days of Hitler as the Soviets close in, and as such, he has some quite epic breakdown moments, especially in this infamous scene where he completely loses it upon finding out that Felix Steiner couldn't muster up enough forces to hold back the Allies.
- At one point, another general also has a screaming fit, refusing to consider the possibility of surrender because he remembers the shame and humiliation of the German surrender at the end of World War One. It's a sobering reminder of just how much suffering and misery was caused by what can be essentially chalked up as wounded pride and arrogance gone mad.
- Villain Protagonist: Its a film centered on the last ten days of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi inner hierarchy. Technically, almost every character in the film is either a Nazi or supporter of their regime. Some of the characters are treated sympathetically, such as Hitler's secretaries, Albert Speer, Dr. Schenck, General Mohnke, and General Wielding. This is largely because their remaining capacity for rational thought and human emotion stands in stark contrast to how far off the deep end Hitler went. Mohnke and Wielding are the only generals that outright express concern to Hitler about the fate of the German civilians in Berlin. Mohnke is on the front lines alongside his troops, pointing out to Goebbels that the "Volksturm" conscripts are being slaughtered. Wielding outright pleads with Hitler to abandon Berlin. After most of the other Nazi leaders commmit suicide or flee, more or less on his own initiative Wielding crosses the lines to unconditionally surrender Berlin to the Soviets, rather than let the pointless fighting continue.
- The Voiceless: Rochus Misch. Heinrich Schmeidler delivers an impressive performance despite having no dialogue beyond an incredulous "Marshal Zhukov!?" late in the film.
- He gets a couple more lines in the extended cut.
- War Is Hell: And how!
- We Have Reserves: Subverted. They don't have reserves, but Hitler keeps trying to act like they do. It's the subject of the infamous rant. Something similar happens with the Volkssturm, officially the "national militia", but actually a desperate last-ditch attempt to throw outdated weapons into conscripted civilians and shove them at the front line on pain of execution. Since most youths and even boys had already been conscripted into the German Army, they were basically rounding up any old men they could find. Multiple scenes are devoted to depicting how civilians are randomly "conscripted" and within a matter of hours thrown at the Soviets, and those who try to run away are executed on sight by the SS. The civilians are then shown being massacred when they attempt to attack the Soviets due to lack of weapons, training and tactics. General Wilhelm Mohnke implores Goebbels that the Volkssturm, of which he's technically in command of, have no effect on the battle, to which Goebbels insists that thousands of militiamen can overcome the well-armed Soviets out of a fanatical belief in the "Final Victory". And when Mohnke insists that their deaths will be meaningless and fruitless, Goebbels drops the charade and defiantly says he doesn't pity them, claiming it's their fault for following him.
- What Could Have Been: Oliver Hirschbeigel almost didn't direct the film, trying to leave the project to jump to another project that had just lost its original director. However, his contract stated that he couldn't leave the project and had to direct the film. The film that he tried to jump to? Blade Trinity.
- Where Are They Now? Epilogue: The ultimate fates of the people we weren't shown is detailed at the very end.
- While Rome Burns: There are a few desperate attempts to have fun, at Eva's insistence - for example, when everyone is forcing themselves to act happy and dance with the bombing in the background. Finally it gets so loud and so close, that they can't even fake it anymore and are clearly terrified. At this point, Eva jumps up on a table and starts dancing going "Cmon, play the music, I want to dance!" And then, a bomb hits directly over the bunker and one of the walls collapses in a cloud of dust, sending everyone into a panic as the lights flicker.
- Windmill Crusader: Hitler and some of his closest followers desperately tried to save the world from a global conspiracy they honestly believed to be real. As Berlin falls they face what they believe to be the twilight of mankind itself. Hitler himself is most likely insane, while his followers are rational except for their misguided belief that he is a legitimate leader. Their actions make total sense when one take this tragic belief into account.
- Windmill Political: The film is one of many works that take this view on the then-widely-believed fear of a global Jewish conspiracy; it was ultimately a total crackpot hoax and delusion, but Hitler and his followers honestly believed it -— making them Windmill Crusaders.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: A certain madman condemns the German people to death because, apparently, they failed him. He's convinced that the day will be saved at any moment by what one underling refers to as "phantom divisions". He goes about appointing people to key positions seemingly at random. He generally makes many errors; for example, he even orders one general to be executed as a traitor, only to later call him a hero and reassign him to Berlin's faltering defense — all in a span of literally like 40 seconds. (Then again, the execution order was due to a misunderstanding.)-- Generally, much of Hitler's breakdown seems to revolve around the fact that he utterly fails to recognize his own flaws, and turns his loathing of his own weaknesses at other people and their perceived (whether actual or imagined) weakness.
- World War Two
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: In the extended cut, Peter takes his deceased teenage commander's pistol and hides as the Soviet troops storm in. After leaving his hiding place, he is found by a Soviet soldier who then says in Russian, "I won't fight a child". He is then shot and left for dead by Peter, who is quickly horrified by what he did.
- This is truth in fiction of course, but Hitler's generals are such "yes men" they will never disobey him (Wilhelm Keitel's nickname was "Lakeitel, a pun on the German word for lackey). At best, some implore him to see reason, but refuse to outright turn on him. The most any of them ever does is when (the unseen) Felix Steiner refuses to launch a counterattack against surrounding Soviets... only because Hitler insisted he attack using imaginary units, and his remaining forces were (despite Hitler's crazed claims) in reality outnumbered ten to one.
- In contrast to regular generals, SS members like Himmler and Fegelein know all too well that the war is lost and are secretly planning to negotiate with the Allies; not that they were more heroic, but they were smart enough to realize when to give up on a lost cause. Fegelein even criticizes the regular generals (Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, Hans Krebs and Wilhelm Burgdorf) for continuing to go along with Hitler when they privately admit the war is lost. Himmler and Fegelein pay lip service to Hitler while in the same room, but they're simply buying time for their escape.
- Even Joseph Goebbels — Yes Man among Hitler's Yes Men — has his fair share of private admissions of defeat, even as he seems to honestly believe everything Hitler says, knowing all too well that, as Hitler's right-hand man, getting out of Berlin alive is nigh-impossible.
- Subverted with Albert Speer, one of the few people who tries to convince Hitler that the war is truly lost, even pointing out that most of his generals already think the same, even as they are too spineless to ever say it to his face.
- You Are in Command Now: On several occassions Hitler randomly promotes officers to higher military positions. General Weidling is ordered to defend Berlin when he only came in to attest that he didn't move his command post and therefore shouldn't be executed. Ritter von Greim is an even better example however: he was also already a general, but when he makes it to the bunker he is put in command of the entire German air force (which is all but completely defunct by this point in time), and told that he has to rebuild it from the ground up. When Hitler starts claiming that he'll be able to give Greim a thousand jet aircraft on short notice, it's become obvious that reality and him don't see eye to eye anymore.
- You Have Failed Me: Hitler and some of his cohorts attempt to do this to an entire country.
- the opposite of what the Real Life Fegelein, a bastard who betrayed his brother in law (the Führer) and tried to escape with a suitcase of stolen money and jewellery, did when caught. He was shot on the spot because he was too drunk to be court-martialed