How the movie ‘The Downfall’ changed the way we think about evil

Without a doubt, acting is an art; the best among the lot is the one who could literally immerse in the character he/she is trying to portray. But sometime this could be not the best of idea’s, especially when you are acting out a historical figure that is considered as the embodiment of evil.

Indulging in pointless conversations to soothe the nerves was a very frequent occurrence inside the infamous ‘Fuhrerbunker’. Hitler’s propaganda chief, Josef Goebbels had reportedly said to his comrades that a hundred years later people would whoop and hail on their bravery when they would watch their stories unfolding in a color film. Soon after that Goebbels was dead along with most of his friends including Adolf Hitler, who killed himself. However, Goebbels’ dream became a reality, though partially, when in 2004 the story of the last days of the Reich took to the big screen. After watching ‘the downfall’, instead of whoop and praise the audience left theatres, rather disturbed by the whole affair.

The director of the film Olivier Hirschbiegel said that portraying Hitler in his truest of colors was challenging and excruciatingly depressing for him. He added that he did go through various studies and works done on Hitler, most notably Sebastian Hefner’s book ‘The Meaning of Hitler’. According to Hefner Hitler’s personality was like a shell, with a variety of skills under his sleeve, to manipulate and seduce people in to his interests.

When Hirschbiegel’s movie was released, it not only shook the basis of the war genre, it also created a new approach towards war portrayal. It encouraged a genre in which evil is not portrayed as a fictional, long-clawed monster, rather cunning, mysterious, and manipulative being.

To some extent, the movie satisfied the long time craving of the Germans to draw a distinctive line between ordinary Germans and the evil called Hitler. Though some German critics held the view that bringing back lost and bad memory does no good to the German people and the world as a whole.

‘The Downfall’ faced a rather fierce criticism from a number of American critics, who claimed that the portrayal of Hitler’s associates is not what people might expect. They also objected on the director’s approach towards the character of Hitler, who is shown smiling and occasionally indulging in pretty ‘normal’ routines. However, the director of the film answered to this criticism saying that in reality evil is always cunning, and comes in a nice and colorful wrapper, The Telegraph reports.

The distinguished Swiss actor Bruno Ganz went to every length possible to copy everything about the Fuhrer. He painstakingly went through accounts of Hitler’s close associates for the little things Hitler did and said in his everyday life. Ganz looked for the minute details about the way Hitler walked, and carried himself, and how he acted when angry or when he was pleased. Bruno Ganz is the possessor of the mysterious ‘ Iffland Ring’ that is given to the highly honored German speaking actor of a generation.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE