Bunker mentality

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Last updated on June 15th, 2017 at 01:14 pm

I wonder if any of you have seen the German movie currently playing called Downfall?  It deals with the weeks leading up to Hitler’s suicide and is largely set inside his bunker.  The movie is based on books by two people who were there, including one by his (Hitler’s) 22-year old secretary, Trudl Junge.  In fact, the movie is told from her point of view.

It has been criticised by many people, though it has been a hit in Germany itself.  One of the most common complaints is that it humanises the Nazi’s, particularly Hitler’s inner core of supporters and some of the lesser figures (like the secretaries) that surround him.  One such critic was German director Wim Wenders:

In a diatribe published in the weekly paper Die Zeit, German filmmaker Wim Wenders said he had found the film to be inexcusably neutral toward National Socialism and Hitler. “The lack of narrative position alone,” he wrote, takes “the audience into a black hole in which they are led, almost unnoticeably, toward looking at this time through the eyes of the perpetrators, and generates a kind of benevolent understanding of them.”

I think this is just plain wrong.  Certainly the movie does, in a sense, humanise those it depicts, but the idea that you come away with a “benevolent” understanding of them is nonsense.  In fact, it is the very humanisation of the characters–their unexceptionableness–that makes their descent into evil, their supporting role, all the more horrifying.

For me–and I suspect, most parents–the most disgusting moment involves the Goebbels family and I am at one with Jim Henley on this:

Josef and Magda Goebbels are especially monstrous: Magda’s way of reconciling familial love and fuhrerprinzip made me want to reach through the screen and shoot the bitch myself. Absolutely skin-crawling.

The other chilling moment, though this time in a political sense as well, also belongs to Josef Goebbels.  At one point someone asks him (and I’m doing this from memory not from a transcript) something about showing concern for the German people now that the war is lost and given the fact that they being slaughtered.  Goebbels is completely dismissive, saying something to the effect of, “Well, they gave us a mandate, and now their little throats are being cut.” Boo hoo.

It was a brutal reminder, the whole film was in fact, of the risks for people of any political persuasion in accepting uncritically the actions of any political party or leader they happen to favour.  Not only do you need freedom of speech legally enshrined so that critics can be heard, you need, on a personal level, a willingness to confront your own side of politics when they fuck up.  That’s as true for those who dress left politically as it is for those who dress right, but it is most important when “your” side is in power.

Anyway, be interested if anyone else has seen the movie and what they thought of it.

Posted by Tim Dunlop on 04/18/2005 at 08:12 AM
    1. Archie?

      Posted by crash on 04/18 at 09:07 AM • #


    1. If I want bunker mentality, I just have to wait for the next speech from Howard Dean…

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 04/18 at 09:17 AM • #


    1. I have not yet seen it—but your point about allowing the characters to be both human and evil is an important one.  Too often, Hollywood wants to make sure no one misses the “point” of a movie.

      Recall at the end of that terrific movie—Tim Robbins’ best work—Bob Roberts.  The Senate candidate is shot and supposedly paralyzed, but you see him sitting in a wheelchair playing guitar, gently tapping his feet to keep time.  If Hollywood trusted its audience, the movie would have ended there—look, the guys a fraud!—but no, there was 10 minutes of Gore Vidal epilogue explaining to the audience how bad the Bob Roberts character really was.

      I look forward to seeing a movie that trusts that I already know that Nazis are evil and can be trusted not to take the wrong lesson from a movie.

      Posted by Andrew on 04/18 at 09:28 AM • #


    1. 10 minutes of Gore Vidal is bad no matter what the story…

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 04/18 at 09:35 AM • #


    1. When I turn on my TV and watch the news, I’m bombarded with anti-Howard and anti-Bush propaganda. When I look at a newspaper, I’m bombarded with anti-Howard and anti-Bush propaganda. When I turn on the radio, I’m bombarded with terrible music, with snippets of anti-Howard and anti-Bush propaganda in between songs.

      I think we’ll be ok.

      If you’re justifying your existence (and the left’s as a whole), just remember it’s not only left and right, there’s authoritarian and libertarian as well.

      And exactly, humanizing them is the whole point, people seem to forget they were flesh and blood. What’s the point of making a film otherwise?

      Posted by Aging Gamer on 04/18 at 09:38 AM • #


    1. Highly recommended.  They took a few liberties with the historical material (AFAIK, Eva Braun’s brother-in-law was caught while he was preparing to flee the city, not holed up in a whorehouse), but the filmmakers captured the weirdness of the overall atmosphere in the bunker perfectly.  The gentleman who played Hitler could not have been better.

      Posted by Brian Swisher on 04/18 at 09:49 AM • #


    1. I have seen it and I couldn’t agree with you more. Critics have confused a pathetic portrayal of Hitler, which is what the movie offers, with a “sympathetic” one, which it certainly does not. Hitler in this movie has lost all his power except that which he still holds over the loyal circle that remains with him in the bunker. He veers between issuing delusional orders to non-existent armies and accepting that he is doomed to suicide in the bunker. For those who wanted more of a ranting maniac portrayal, this would have been a major sacrifice of realism, since he was unlikely to behave like that to the few supporters he had left with him at the end.

      Your points about the Goebbels are spot on – it’s hard to think of a creepier depiction of any couple in movie history.

      Posted by dsmith_michigan on 04/18 at 09:54 AM • #


    1. I think the danger for many of us is when we see people who do bad things we all do often differentiate them from us.  They’re evil.  They’re power hungry.  They exploit the powerless, the weak.  I am none of those things, neither are most people.  So the danger of it happening here does not exist.

      The sad fact of the matter is, even the most sadistic and maniacal leaders have an attractive and cordial side to their personalities.  Indeed it usually their personality that allows them to gain the following and support of millions of people.

      Posted by wronwright on 04/18 at 10:29 AM • #


    1. It may be hard to imagine but Hitler had a sense of humour.

      He allowed German soldiers in occupied countries to marry local women, but only after he saw photographs of the women.

      “Most of the women in the pictures were not especially pretty,” the book said. “Hitler laughed and said once the soldiers who fell in love with these women sobered up again they would curse him for allowing them to marry.”

      Posted by J F Beck on 04/18 at 10:36 AM • #


    1. In Simon Seabag Montefiore’s excellent biography of Stalin, “Stalin – The Court of the Red Tsar,” Montefiore writes that early in his political career:

      1. The foundation of Stalin’s power in the Party was not fear; it was charm.

      2.  He was what is now known as “a people person.” When he set his mind to charming a man, he was irresistable.

      3.  Everyone who saw him was “anxious to see him again,” because “he created a sense that there was now a bond that linked them forever.”

      4.  He was such fun, his rough, self-assured humor was roguish and impish.

      Can you think of one of the great butchers in history as a “people person?”

      Posted by Ioxymoron on 04/18 at 12:00 PM • #


    1. loxymoron asks: “Can you think of one of the great butchers in history as a ‘people person?’”

      Sure – as long as you’re trying to ingratiate yourself with the powers-that-be in order to survive.

      In his home town of Tbilsi, Stalin is still revered by some old-timers. When I was there in 1976, I recall glancing into the cab of a truck and being taken aback to see a little framed photo of Stalin fixed to the dashboard – like a St. Christopher statue gone very, very wrong.

      On a related topic, I read that the BBC will be trying to rehabilitate the reputation of Ghengis Khan:

      Can Stalin be far behind?

      (URL fixed for formatting reasons.—Admin.)

      Posted by Urbs in Horto on 04/18 at 12:35 PM • #


    1. ““Can you think of one of the great butchers in history as a ‘people person?’”

      Well, being a people person is, if not a requirement, a big boon if you want to kick off a career in mass butchery. In these times of Demos it’s hard to rise to power if you are a pathetic recluse.

      Posted by dobeln on 04/18 at 12:45 PM • #


    1. Tim,

      Watching it in German is weird, they went out of their way to give everybody the “right” accents.  It is a real microcosm of German social culture with some of the secretaries sounding like Berlin, others like Koeln and everybody of rank sounding weirdly posh (a al Hyacinth Bucket) – nobody sounds quite focussed in time.

      Der Untergang is a weird experience.

      Posted by Russell on 04/18 at 02:20 PM • #


    1. YEs Urbis i am sure that some in Germany want to show the “real Hitler”- the Romantic Hitler, the Hitler with a song on his heart..
      Did you know the the Fuehrer was a terrific dancer?
      Not many know this, but often in his last days in the Bunker, he would sweep away EVA in a passionate tango in front of the loving faithful!
      Yes this was the real Hitler, the Hitler who loved dogs and children.
      And all those lies about the Nazis having no sense of Humour! I could tell you jokes about the Serbs and the Jews – you would die from Laughter.
      TIm is right the world must see the human Hitler at last.
      David Irving ( key west.florida)

      Posted by davo on 04/18 at 02:35 PM • #


    1. I don’t think it’s as important to see the human in the monster as it is to see the monster in the human.  If we could learn to do that, we might save ourselves some cataclysmic wars and genocides.

      Posted by RebeccaH on 04/18 at 02:43 PM • #


    1. Oh please davo, way to misrepresent the movie’s (and Tim’s, in making his post) intentions to score a cheap shot at him and “some in Germany”.

      Posted by PW on 04/18 at 03:31 PM • #


    1. I’m merely stating that there is another side effect to “humanising the Nazis” that tim did not mention- Sympathy, not that Tim is in any way a closet nazi, in fact . i’m sure he like me, an anti nazi.
      As for “ some Germans”, i have met heaps who have told me ater a drink that AH was not such a bad fellow after all. I’m sure i/m not the only one.

      Posted by davo on 04/18 at 04:17 PM • #


    1. “’m merely stating that there is another side effect to “humanising the Nazis�? that tim did not mention- Sympathy, not that Tim is in any way a closet nazi, in fact . i’m sure he like me, an anti nazi. “

      Yea, could happen. Then again, I am somewhat taken aback by the criticism of the movie, as most nazis except Speer, the SS Doctor and a few other characters are depicted as seriously, seriously unpleasant human beings. But yes, human beings, and not Hollywood devils with horns and stuff.

      Posted by dobeln on 04/18 at 05:24 PM • #


    1. I think I’ll go with Rebecca’s Law.

      Posted by underscore on 04/18 at 06:37 PM • #


    1. I thought that Peter Thompson of the Sunday program made an excellent point.

      Far from personalizing the nazi’s, the film exposed them for what they were.  The moral equivalent of the Ebola virus.

      Posted by mushtaq_omar on 04/18 at 06:38 PM • #


    1. Der Fuhrer never said dis “baby…!”

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 04/18 at 07:12 PM • #


    1. Pity the sausage-eaters never did give the Nazis a mandate- they weaseled their way in through a limp constitution. Did it delve into Hitler’s alleged coprophillia? If so it’s no wonder it was a hit in Germany.

      Posted by Habib on 04/18 at 07:58 PM • #


    1. I saw it, I liked it. I felt sorry for the soldiers, as I always do, but Hitler’s buddies certainly disgusted me.

      Posted by ZombieXXXXking on 04/18 at 10:40 PM • #


    1. A few comments:

      1) Wim Wenders’s films are pretentious, boring and over-wrought. His politics and general opinions that I’ve read about in interviews, etc. all seem to be of a piece.

      2) Bob Roberts is a terrible film. I think the word is: didactic (the whole thing, not just the last part). It contains every Hollywood leftist trope about the threat of nefarious Conservatives and endangered Liberal crusaders for social justice. It’s a brain-dead caricature with one message, Republicans = Evil (racist, lying/manipulative, uncaring, violent, etc.). I believed in that cartoonish moralism when I saw it as a college kid, but even then I realized the movie was heavy-handed and obvious.

      3)For another fascinating view of the same subject, read Albert Speer’s book Inside the 3rd Reich. It shoud be read with an awareness that the author may be slf-servingly distorting his account to lessen his own role and degree of responsibility for the monstrosities committed, despite his apparent willingness to confess guilt and express contrition. Nevertheless, it seems to be a mostly accurate autobiographical account from a member of the semi-inner circle. It is no less damning for humanizing the actors and the events.

      Posted by John in Tokyo on 04/18 at 11:21 PM • #


    1. Damn that Speer.

      He was more than a mere accomplice in the Nazi slave labour system and the massively enhanced military and technological muscle his reforms gave Hitler probably resulted in several millions of additional civilian and military deaths, and brought us closer to defeat in the latter half of the war than many admit.

      But somehow, being one of the elitists own kind perhaps, he gets excused to some degree.

      Great movie though. That story really did have to be told.

      Posted by kipwatson on 04/19 at 12:15 AM • #


  1. It’s often been said that Hitler and Co were inhuman monsters.

    The trouble is, they were Human monsters.

    They don’t come with labels attached saying “Caution : Appears to be Human but Isn’t : Can quite cheerfully exterminate millions of human beings”.

    Most, if not all, of them, thought they were doing right. From Hitler’s dream of a restoration of the “natural order” (with Aryans on top, naturally), through to Pol Pot’s Marxist Utopian “Year Zero”. Osama Bin Laden probably believes much of the propaganda he’s spouting, and the various suicide bombers who have massacred innocents certainly do.

    We should all remember that. Bush and Howard certainly do. The “Not in My Name” people are far too comfortable in their own snug, tight, progressive viewpoint to consider it. They know they’re morally righteous, and so everyone who doesn’t see the world from their viewpoint must be Evil, Evil, Evil.

    For proof, just look at what they’re saying. Karl Rove Zionazi BUSH=HITLER!!!

    Posted by aebrain on 04/19 at 12:28 AM • #