Let it be said here and now that this film brought me to tears on more than one occasion — not because I cared about the stars of this film (such as Adolf Hitler), but because of the shear senselessness and moral depravity that could move men to do what the Nazis did. A particular scene involving the murder of children was perhaps the most difficult for me.
It is not a film I will ever see again for I have no desire to see it again. Yet it must be highly rated, praised even, for that which it accomplishes in its viewing. It is a film that everyone should see I think. For this film humanizes a man pushed into some part of our brain and sectioned off. Our minds push this man into a category in which he does not exist. Somehow we say, “what he did can’t happen again, it can’t happen here, it won’t happen ever again.” But this is not true.
This film is by all accounts I could find, accurate in essentials and spirit to the man Adolf Hitler was. What that man did was unthinkable, what his soldiers did was inexcusable, what his generals and figureheads did is appalling. But we need to remember that he was a human being just as you and me. It is too easy to place him in some monster category and chalk it up to the evilness of a particular individual. It’s too easy for us to forget that all of us humans have the same capacity to evilness.
The film starts off with an interview clip from the real Traudl Junge. This woman served as secretary to Adolf Hitler and an eyewitness to his downfall. It is to some extent her film for it is her we follow from beginning to end. But it is not just about her, and we do not stay just with her throughout the film.
The film ably puts us, in a way, in her frame of mind — or rather, shows us her frame of mind. She was just a secretary, thrilled to be employed by a man of such power. She made no decisions, she personally did not kill a single other human being during her tenure. But she was witness to, and privy to the terrible and awful. And she was a witness to the decay of both mind and body of Hitler.
A Magnetic Personality
We tend to think of Hitler as this all encompassing evil, this great monster of ill will, hatred, cruelty and the like. And these things about him are certainly true. His hatred of those he considered of inferior race is all but indelibly ingrained in our collective consciousness. But it is shortsighted and naive to think that he was viewed that way by those around him and those that revered him. I remember learning in school in my history books that he could be kind, conversational, persuasive and more. And I think we sometimes forget that. This film reminds us of that. Even as his mind was slipping, he was always personable and kind to (most of) those around him.
And he inspired a madness that, though different from his own madness, was indeed what I would call a madness — a loyalty shown in the face of overwhelming evidence of the evil and atrocities committed against even their own German people. Many committed themselves to stay by Hitler’s side and even commit suicide after he did — to follow in those senseless and insane footsteps.
In a twisted scene, Frau Goeggels gives her children a sleep inducing substance, and then inserts cyanide capsules in their mouths and forces their jaws closed one by one. She does this because as I paraphrase, she doesn’t want her children to grow up in a world without national socialism. So instead of nurturing as a mother should, she murders her own children.
Hitler is ably captured in this film by a German actor by the name of Bruno Ganz. Not being in the habit of watching German films I have never seen him in anything before, and I feel somewhat the worse off for it. He is utterly convincing here in both his looks, as well as his demeanor and actions. This is truly first rate acting. From the beginning of the film with the proud, upright, respectable and respected Führer, to the almost captain Ahab like madman, I felt that the portrayal was right. Whether it was or not I can’t be certain but he certainly convinced me. He says convincingly in film, “If the war is lost, it is immaterial if the German people survive. I will shed not one tear for them.” and you utterly believe in the simultaneous self righteousness and cruelty of this man. His ideals were warped and twisted, but they were there to be seen for certain.
Hitler was just a man. A tragic man, an evil man, a self righteous, self important, pompous, unrighteous man — but a man none-the-less. It is this that should frighten us. It is for this reason we must watch this film and not forget. We must not let the reality on which this film is based happen again, for if we forget, it will happen again.
To the Christians I Speak Now
If I may speak for a moment only to those of us who call ourselves Christ’s followers… This film is important because it reminds us of what man is without Christ, for we are all capable, more than capable of the same evil that drove Adolf Hitler. If not for the grace of God we would be Hitler. For all intents and purposes we are Hitler. Hitler was nothing more than a fallen and depraved man, in the right (or wrong) place, at the right (or wrong) time to become the “monster” we know him as today.
We must never allow ourselves to think that what Hitler did is beyond our capability to evil, or that somehow he had a special dose of evil or sinfulness. We must remember that this is what all mankind is capable of, and this film helps to remind us of that by showing us that Hitler was just a human.
Criticism has been leveled at this film for making us feel sympathy or even admiration for Adolf Hitler. Admiration I did not feel — I did not look up to this man even once during the film. Sympathy on the other hand? Perhaps in a small dose. Nothing can ever make right those terrible things committed by Hitler and the German people during that period of time, but we must try, we must remember, we must re-tell the atrocities that they be not forgotten. We must resist the tendency to racism that drove Hitler and the Germans. We must remember that we, all of us, are capable of these things. We must remember that we are not immune. We must remember.