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'HEIL, MEIN F?HRER.'

22 December 2004

I saw the German movie Der Untergang recently. You may have heard of it (I don't know if it has been released outside of Europe). It's the movie that has conservative people shouting from the top of their lungs that it's an outrage. It's the movie that is supposedly taboo-breaking, but shows nothing that I, as a self-thinking philosophiser, didn't already know. It's the movie that shows the final hours of Hitler, tucked away in his bunker while Berlin is being bombed and invaded by the Enemy. The Enemy? Oh yes, it's also the movie that shows things from Adolf's side.

And a powerful movie it is. That is; Hitler is the centre of it, and the actor portraying him, you see, is Hitler. From the moment he makes his untheatrical appearance to his final off-screen suicide; this is Hitler you're seeing.

The scenes where he bursts out in one of his furious rants are goosebump-inducing, but what is striking is how much subtlety there is in the movie. Many themes and layers are present that allow for many interpretations of who Hitler actually was. One of the things that I personally found to be very poignant, was when you saw Hitler in the final hours of the war. Around him, all his men were drinking and soldiers were partying and releasing themselves from the order and respect that they had for the Third Reich. Showing their real faces, as crude men. It struck me that Hitler must have realised at that point that he was alone in his vision of style and class, of culture and art. That he was the only one to be genuine in his belief in the new empire, with all the rest finally revealing themselves to be animals. All is not sympathy however, but it's relieving to see many historic hints toward the motivations of the vegetarian dictator.

The movie is not without its flaws. Its biggest mistake is not having enough faith in itself, which resulted in the forced introduction of several uninteresting subplots showing an annoying little Hitlerjugend kidsoldier realising the cruelty and wrongness of war and some SS-medic racing around ruined Berlin trying to help victims as best as he can. Oh I can see why they put this in. Unfortunately, films such as these still seem to be chained to the dogma that you have to have a 'personal' edge to any warmovie, and therefore spawn a host of sidecharacters for the audience to feel with.

But Der Untergang could have done without it The film already shows such audacity in its depiction of Hitler; it is truly a pity it didn't have the balls to take that chance and decide to let the film rest solely on the shoulders of Der F?hrer. Because he'd have managed magnificently. In fact, the movie would have been so much better if it hadn't been for all those godawful subplots. It really pisses me off, actually. It's still an incredible experience, but to see a movie get so close to perfection and then having to witness the tragedy of the makers shying away at the last moment and succumbing to fear and loss of spine by introducing all this degenerating crap is nothing less than torture. At the end of the movie, to no ones surprise I hope, Hitler commits suicide in a scene lasting minutes and raising every hair on my body for its entire duration. But when one expected the movie to end shortly after, one was unpleasantly surprised that the film went on still for a good 45 minutes: silently killing off the final resounding echo of Hitler by burying it with the deucedly uninteresting resolutions of the various subplots. A tragedy, my friends.

Der Untergang is still a movie well worth seeing, because the performance of Hitler is ominously perfect. And I dare anyone to not feel a hint of sympathy and grow an understanding for that psychotic, yet strangely integer soul. The crime of letting this movie be watered down and humiliated by allowing it to turn into a poor rendition of Saving Private Ryan in the scenes where Hitler isn't present [anymore], is a great one, but shall have to be accepted and swallowed. I just hope there'll be a director's cut where we won't have to deal with all that miscellaneous garbage; creating a two-hour masterpiece instead of a three-hour movie wrought with ambiguity.

Roderick.