Monday, January 14, 2008

Der Untergang

Saw The Downfall (Der Untergang) on DVD not long ago, satisfying my periodic desire for high-verisimilitude historical fiction. It's another version of the oft-told fürherbunker Nazis at the bitter-end story, but unlike others I've seen in various ways. For one thing, it's in German, which is part of that verisimilitude I like. I don't care how great an actor Alec Guinness was, hearing him pretend to be Hitler in English was too distracting.

Der Untergang was billed as the story of one of Hitler's secretaries, Traudl Junge, but actually it was an ensemble movie. The fellow who played Hitler, Bruno Ganz, had the hardest job, and he acquitted himself well. I've read that some grumbled because Hitler was portrayed as a human being, instead of as a cartoon monster, I suppose. Of course, we all know it's the cartoon monsters of the world who do great evil, not the human beings. I'm not sure why people think it's impossible for a person to be a vegetarian, kind to animals and children, and a sympathetic boss, and also to be capable of ordering the industrialized murder of millions. Clearly, it is possible.

(And why doesn't PETA ever mention the fact that Hitler detested the exploitation of animals? The man had his priorities, and so do they.)

The real creep of the show was Goebbels, anyway, played by one Ulrich Matthes, who had a face perfect for the part. Interestingly, the movie played up the fun-loving side of Eva Braun, even in the grim days of the fürherbunker. Eva Braun, party girl. Who would have thought?

Boys my age, some of them anyway, knew about the fürherbunker. I remember occasional discussions at the lunchroom table in elementary school about how Hitler and Eva Braun did themselves in, and what became of their bodies. I don't think anyone at the lunch table actually thought that he escaped in a U-boat to Argentina, but the idea came up. It was a notion well enough known for Johnny Carson to do a parody American Express commercial in the mid-70s, with a Hitler-looking character claiming to have used his card in "Brazil, Argentina, you name it."


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