By Tracy Moore,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Provocative look at Hitler's last days is extremely violent.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
In spite of the incredibly bleak subject matter, there is a sense of hopefulness that such reigns of terror inevitably cannot last, that there can be good people even among the horrors of war, that there is a kind of humanity even in the worst among us.
Positive Role Models
Aside from perhaps a handful of invented characters as plot devices, these are largely historical figures represented as complex in spite of their allegiance to a terrible regime. However, there are a few examples of those who attempt to act humanely or ethically in the context of a brutal war's end, and a few characters who are, at the very least, innocent because they are ignorant to the war's atrocities due to their youth or naiveté (often both).
Violence & Scariness
The film contains a near-relentless pace of wartime atrocities and their accompanying bloodshed, including bombs, explosions, dead bodies, graphic murders, and nearly a dozen suicides by gunshot, multiple scenes of execution-style deaths by individuals or death squads, piles of severed limbs, limbs being sawed off to amputate, and several graphic scenes of poison by cyanide capsule, gunshots to the mouth or head, and a mass grave of burned corpses, sometimes including those of children. There are multiple scenes in which people are dragged to be hanged, or shown hanged. In what is a particularly sickening scene, a woman gives her six children liquid morphine to drink, then feeds them cyanide capsules in their sleep. Additionally, a dog is given a cyanide capsule to test its efficacy, and is heard dropping to the floor (but not shown).
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
In multiple scenes, women are shown topless. In one scene, a woman is shown naked on a bed, presumably after intercourse.
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Language is harsh and macabre, with multiple explicit references to killing or murdering those believed to be traitors to Nazi Germany with phrases such as "slit their throats, "drown in their own blood," or "put a bullet in their head."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Casual smoking is seen throughout the film. Drinking is a constant presence, either in scenes of debauched, end-times partying, to steel one's reserve in the face of horror, or to dull the pain of injury or surrender.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Downfall tells the story of the last days in Hitler's bunker, contrasting between the increasingly violent bombings outside in Berlin, and the panicked scramble of those in Hitler's inner circle as they realize their grip on power is slipping. There is a relentlessly graphic pace of explosions, murders, suicides, and bloodshed, and one particularly macabre scene of six children being poisoned by their mother. Though the film is considered largely historically accurate and provides a great deal of insight into the nature of war and power, it's not without controversy for the accusations that it portrays evil too sympathetically by attempting to humanize it. Best viewed by very mature teens who've studied World War 2, have prior understanding of the Holocaust, and are prepared to ponder complex questions about what is among the darkest, most brutal events in human history.
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German WWII Movie is a Cinematic Masterpiece
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What's the Story?
Hitler's private secretary Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) narrates with book-ended documentary footage her experience during the last days of Adolf Hitler's reign over Nazi Germany in 1945, leading up to and just past his death by suicide. Drawn from Junge's memoirs and multiple other accounts of those in Hitler's inner circle during the Red Army's takeover of Berlin, the film portrays Hitler's (Bruno Ganz) increasing paranoia and split from reality in his underground bunker. Meanwhile, those close to him -- commanding officers, family and friends such as girlfriend Eva Braun, and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife, Magda (Corinna Harfouch) -- scramble to escape, or solidify grim solutions as they realize that the war is lost, and that they have no existence without Hitler.
Is It Any Good?
DOWNFALL is a fascinating, complicated look at Hitler's last days that offers an atypical perspective for a story that feels otherwise well-documented. It's told from the vantage point of those in Hitler's inner circle in a panic to save themselves as the Russians close around them in Berlin. It goes one further by attempting to portray each of them as humans, with their own complicated loyalties and self-interest and reactions to this news. This, coupled with the brutally graphic wartime violence, makes for an unsettling watch that never lets up.
Worth noting: The violence here goes beyond just dark -- it is, at times, downright sickening, such as when Magda Goebbels coolly poisons her own children rather than have to live in a world without Hitler's National Socialism. And though it moves briskly, 155 minutes of such macabre meditations will take its toll on the most well-steeled viewer. Expect to be left with a palpable unease, and more questions than answers: Can we learn anything by pondering what sort of person Hitler might have been underneath the demonic caricatures we're used to? Is it possible to behave humanely within an evil regime? What makes some people so blindly loyal to such terrible figures? How could someone so terrible have such magnetism to those who knew him? Strictly for mature teens and up.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the delusional loyalty of some of Hitler's inner circle. Why do you think so many people were loyal to someone with such a capacity for evil? Were they selfish? Or blind?
The film has received criticism for being too sympathetic to characters whose actions in the film are taken only from their own accounts in memoirs, and for potentially glorifying their actions as somehow noble, rather than barbaric. What do you make of the portrayal of Traudl Junge as an innocent secretary? Or Dr. Ernst-Gunther Schenck as a humane doctor? Or General Wilhelm Mohnke as attempting to behave humanely? What about Adolf Hitler? Did he seem humanized in a way that threatens to undermine his crimes?
Traudl Junge expresses remorse for her role as Hitler's secretary, remarking that "being young is no excuse" for not knowing about the crimes of the Holocaust or the death of six million Jews. She ponders what she could have done differently. Do you think it is possible for Junge to have "known better" than to take a job as Hitler's secretary? What do you make of her assessment of her own complicity in the Third Reich? Is she too easy on herself?
- On DVD or streaming: August 2, 2005
- Cast: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch
- Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
- Studio: Sony Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 155 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images and some nudity.
- Last updated: May 20, 2023
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