Monday, January 08, 2007

Downfall - Last days of the Third Reich

I just finished watching Downfall, an amazing movie which was sent to me by John and Sarah, all the way from Sarnia, Ontario.

Downfall is an accurate portrait of the final 10 days of the Third Reich, leading up to and slightly beyond the death of Hitler. It closely follows the accounts of several people who were actually in the bunker in those final days, focusing mainly on Hitler's personal secretary, Traudl Junge.

The cast of the film really did a great job portraying the people within Hitler's inner circle. These were the staunch believers who firmly thought that they would prevail. Their deep sense of loyalty allowed them to continue believing that the orders Hitler was giving in the final days, ordering armies which had already been defeated into action, would save the day and lead to their ultimate victory. It was very interesting to see the interviews with the cast members who had to portray these historically important and oftentimes horrific characters, and to hear them talk about the moral and psychological aspects of their roles. An especially poignant moment was when Bruno Ganz, who plays Hitler, talked about talking with a little actress knowing that her mother would be killing her in the following scene in a recreation of real events which unfolded in the bunker.

An interesting, and some might say the most important, fact about this movie is that it was done by Germans about a dark and horrific part of German history. Call it the continuing atonement of this nation. Many of the actors speak of a historic sense of duty, as Germans, to tell this story and to tell it well. These people are part of a generation which still has a very real connection with the Nazi past, with their parents having been deeply affected by the war. One actor speaks of his mother's side of the family being decimated because they were Jews while his father served as a doctor with the Nazis. One can only imagine his personal sense of duty in the telling of this story. Another interesting fact is that they chose to film this movie in St-Petersburg, Russia. St-Petersburg, which was then known as Leningrad, was besieged by the German Army for over 2 years, causing upwards of one million people to die of starvation and disease. The fact that the German film crew picked this city to shoot in is very significant, as is the comments by the crew that they felt no animosity towards them from the city's population, despite the difficult history that they shared.

These two final ideas bring me to think about Japan, Germany, the Second World War and the totally different ways both nations emerged from the conflict and have progressed until this day. It is totally clear to everyone that Germany has accepted its responsibility for the war, apologized and has moved on while keeping this important part of their history in their collective consciousness. The situation here in Japan is quite different. Judging from the stories I hear of my students being afraid to travel to China due to the bad feeling which still exist between the two countries, I doubt very much that you will see a Japanese film crew filming a critical movie about the Nanking Massacre in China any time soon. In fact, Japan's history books whitewash so much of what happened that many of today's youth are totally clueless about the roots of the anti-Japanese sentiment across the continent today.

Anywho, seeing as I do have to be at work in a little over 9 hours, I think I will turn in and try to get my 8 hours of beauty sleep... lord knows I need it.

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Blogger Jean said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed the movie!

10:42 AM  

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