Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s thoroughly devastating digest of the Third Reich’s final days, had few detractors. But some saw the 2004 film as an attempt to wring sympathy for the Nazis’ waning moments, cutting away as key figures take their own lives.
But intractable ideological decay didn’t disappear with brains on the wall or crushed cyanide capsules. It persisted in other forms, by other names, on other soils.
Downfall isn’t about commuting the sentence that history gave the Nazis, but heeding its warning — a gruesome, sustained-tension lesson about informed politics. Eighty-four percent of Germans arguably sealed their own fate when presenting absolute power to Adolf Hitler.
To him, the war was the people, as espoused in the bowels of a bunker beneath a burning Berlin — a claustrophobic chamber given a Kubrickian gloom and surreal serenity of children serenading soldiers with head wounds. (If there’s sympathy for anyone, it’s those little ones, whose view of Hitler as a bucolic Black Forest uncle is shattered during one of the Zeroes’ most purposefully disturbing scenes.)
Bruno Ganz generates indelible ferocity as Hitler — his composure snapping at will and foam frothing during numerous manic-depressive, delusional flights of fancy about military might.
Some of his right-hand men and women attempt to make good of misdeeds they’d orchestrated before the final curtain. But there’s no rooting interest for any of them to escape Hitler’s clutch and repent. Downfall isn’t about forgiveness, but whether people who left evil to its own devices could find their way toward a sense of complicit guilt.