December 22nd, 2005

Illuminati

Not actually a review of Downfall

This was on the movie reviews database at work, masquerading as a review of Downfall.  It's hysterically funny if you're British and were alive in the late 70s/early 80s...

The question of what/who is really evil is an interesting one. For example, if someone genuinely believes themselves to be doing good (perhaps due to mental illness), then can society really condemn them as evil, or merely sick? It’s an interesting debate.

Leaving aside the illness angle though, the question of who was the most evil man in history is one that has long vexed moral philosophers and historians alike. There are many prime candidates, but it’s generally accepted by most academics that in the end it comes down to a straight choice between Adolf Hitler and Noel Edmonds. Both have their supporters and detractors, and Downfall is a film that tries to come to terms with this.

Set in the final days of the Hitler regime, the film centres around events in the bunker, and on the streets of Berlin, as Red Army soldiers assault the city with offers to trade unwanted Spirograph sets for a Meccano kit. It would have been easy to portray Adolf as an inhuman monster, bent solely on conquest, destruction and the domination of Saturday morning light entertainment, however he is depicted here as also having a more human side. Of course, he still cuts a menacing figure, strutting around the bunker in jackboots, dodgy facial hair and novelty jumper.

The history of the period is well known. That’s not what Downfall is about. It’s about the cult of personality, the mentality of "I was only obeying orders" and the unwillingness of people to face the desperate reality of their situation. Hitler was still convinced he would triumph, even when enemy forces, led by Lenny Henry, Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog, are sweeping all before them in the streets above. Still he would not face the fact he had lost, and right to the end was planning a new offensive in the strategically vital Crinkly Bottom area.

Of course, one deranged man could not on his own possibly have committed crimes against humanity on this scale, and there is no doubt that many of Hitler’s generals were quite evil men in their own right. Goebbels, Himmler, Goering, Chegwin and the rest have to shoulder much of the blame for what happened in those terrible times. The scene I thought was particularly poignant was when Martin Borman and John Craven casually dismiss millions of innocent people as mere "viewing figures".

Naturally, huge numbers such as these are difficult to comprehend, and it’s the scenes of individual suffering that have the most impact. There’s the 12 year old boy facing attacking tanks on his own, the children manning the anti-aircraft units, and the 8 year old with a broken arm being patronised in hospital on Christmas morning. Horrible. Downfall is a compelling, deeply moving piece of cinema. Yes, it all happened a long time ago, but there is still a lesson to be learned.

Kenny.

OQ I haf zis division of elite Wermacht infantry. Who vill svappen mein fur und Kerplunk?