Of all the actors who have convincingly played Hitler, Alec Guiness, Derek Jacobi, Anthony Hopkins, Noah Taylor, it is Bruno Ganz who comes closest to capturing what must have been his authentic decompensation in the Fuhrerbunker. Downfall or, Der Untergang, follows the final two weeks of the Third Reich, with one brief flashback in the point of view of Traudl Junge (Hitler's stenographer) when she is hired in 1942. This provides us with a glimpse of a healthy, hale Fuhrer who has an impish gleam in his eye, and an avuncular warmth of spirit, which he never really abandons. When Traudl says she is from Munich, Hitler hires her on the spot.
Is it right to present Hitler as anything other than a colossal fiend, the greatest evil of the 20th Century? Yes, it is correct. To do otherwise is to deny the reality that here was a man who, through personal magnetism, ruthlessness, and willpower rose to challenge the world's great powers. He didn't do it by acknowledging his intrinsic depravity. He was an all too human monster. That he could be quite charming and tender in person is to all reports, accurate. Yesterday, watching the President of the United States embrace hurricane victims in Biloxi, I thought to myself, he's probably quite charming and warm in person.
Too many absurd parallels have been drawn between our current president and Der Fuhrer by MoveOn.org and others. There is no comparison whatsoever. To try is to reduce Hitler and the suffering of his victims to the banality of modern politics. It is nothing more than a sound-bite, a purile attempt to shock and offend. It makes the accuser feel more self confident to call the enemy "Hitler" than to express a cogent argument against him, which might involve some mental effort.
But there can be no dispute that Hitler the person is as fascinating today as he has ever been. Der Untergang is an amazing work of cinema that shows a society on the brink of collapse through the actions of their duly elected government. But in the final analysis, they were moral midgets. Neither Hitler nor Goebbels acknowledge the suffering of the citizens on the streets above the bunker. "They get what they deserve" is Goebbel's argument. Hitler says, "the best are already dead. What remains is inferior." And so they were willing to let the German nation die. Rather than take any moral responsibility for the disaster that they perpetrated on the world, they contented themselves with the notion that the German people failed them. Sheer, classic transference. No wonder Freud was on Hitler's death list.