We are all familiar by now with the ever growing YouTube internet meme that uses one or two clips from the German movie Downfall. The most commonly used scene from the film is the situation briefing where the Fuhrer realises that his third army has vanished into the ether and he is effectively trapped in Berlin.
My favourites are Hitler phones his ISP to complain about his internet being down and Ruddfall which splices together many scenes from the film to give a witty take on Julia Gillards overthrow of Kevin Rudd.
While the makers of Downfall attempted to purge the parodies a few years ago they are more popular than ever and in a strange way have come to provide a tribute to the power of the original movie and the performance of its star.
Given the Nazi’s penchant for the straightforward in art, it is somehow fitting that this mad leader who thought to create a thousand year legacy has entered the 21st Century recognisable to most people as a victim of parody and sly humour.
Downfall in its gripping entirety is probably as close as we will get to a real account of Hitler’s final days in the bunker. It is the story of what happens when a modern industrial state is taken over by a right wing suicide cult and the feds comes knocking to take the guns away. It doesn’t need over narration. It’s strange and unbelievable as it is.
There are great setpieces, from the remarkable impersonation by Bruno Gantz to the final scenes. It is also a breakthrough as a German film which portray’s a realistic Third Reich in a country which has never really known how to portray these dark times in its own past. It leaves films like Hitler: The Last Ten Days with Alec Guinness looking like a G rated Disney film.
What the film strives to do is to show National Socialism as a cultural faith based machine – one at its most raw and true at the end – and explain how it ground on, even after the death of Hitler.
There are images in this film that will haunt you forever. The mundane reality of workers throwing boxes of files out of windows as the Government of a large modern state disintegrates. Hitler being kind to his staff during a job interview. Magda playing solitaire after poisoning her children, her and Josef shooting each other and then the rash of suicides – the desperate need to die rather than a face a world where their faith has been defeated.
The most telling moments of the film arrive after Hitler shoots himself as we follow the narrators of the story through the last remnants of the Reich and witness its desperate desire to take everyone and everything with it. The Jonestown defence writ across a whole country.
We should never forget that National Socialism was a surrogate state religion and so we can add its death tally to the millions killed, twisted and tortured dating back to the inquisition.
So yes have a laugh at those witty YouTube clips but be sure to see the film.