Friday, April 29, 2005


On Saturday, it will be 60 years to the day since Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun committed suicide in their Bunker near the Reichstag. It seems fitting that, as the last survivors of one of the bloodiest periods in human history enter their twilight years we are delivered a film that actually deals with those final days in an objective manner.

Past movie incarnations have been bland and unrealistic. Der Fuhrer we see on television and in the movies is more of a caricature of evil. He has no depth, no substance, no soul. However evil a person is, they still contain the qualities of other people. They still feel affection, show love, have hopes and fears. Hitler is no different, and Downfall sets about trying to accurately depict Hitlers final days in a way we've never seen before.

The story is told predominately from the perspective of Traudl Junge, Hitlers final stenographer. The film opens in 1942, as half a dozen giddy young women wait for an interview and the chance, to not only meet their idol but, to become a part of his inner circle. The scene profoundly illustrates just how revered this man was. He was loved, and not just by the Germans. He had a charm that won over nations and world leaders. This is a man who, before the war, was viewed as a template for a better tomorrow; trumpeted by American Presidents and British Prime Ministers. There was clearly more to him than just evil.

Following Junges successful application we fastforward to April 1945. The Russians are only 20 miles from central Berlin and the daily aerial bombing is now mixed in with artillery bombardment. Berlin, the heart of Hitlers brave new World, is in ruins. As Hitler surveys the beautiful models of "new" Berlin, with his friend and architect Albert Speer, he remarks on how much easier the reconstruction of Berlin will be, now that the Russians have demolished the city for them. It is a simple piece of detached wit, and yet its delivery seems to offer more of an insight into Hitler than any other film I have seen.

Downfall is as much a story about the end of National Socialism as it is the demise of Hitler, and through some excellent performances the many faces of Nazism are brought to life. From Himmler to Goebbels, the look, personalities and mannerisms of all of he characters are superbly reconstructed.

As the plight of the Nazi cause becomes more desperate, the lives of those in the bunker become more surreal. Conversations about how best to commit suicide become common place, while Eva Braun continues to throw wild parties in the ruins of the Reichstag, even as the shells explode outside.

Hitler, whose deterioration is now well advanced maintains his belief that the might of Germanys armies will come to their rescue. His final realisation that what armies the Nazis have left are crippled and in disarray is haunting. His rants are renowned as being fierce, but as a beaten man, blaming everyone from his Generals to the German people, he is truly pitiful.

The endgame is well over an hour long and to see it from the perspective of the losing side is so rare that it brings the horrors of war home in far more realistic fashion than any movie I have seen. There is no reprieve here. You know that many of these people are going to die. Are they all evil Nazis? Were they all just following orders? Are the civilians as guilty as their masters? They are questions that have dogged the last 60 years and no answer can ever bring comfort. In the end it is hard not to feel compassion for many of the German soldiers and their families, as they choose their fate.

For others though, it is hard to show mercy. As Magda Goebbels, so obsessed with Hitler and his ideals professes that she cannot live in a World without National Socialism, she decides that her family must be spared that future too. As she murders her young children, I could only feel a sense of sorrow that these innocents had to die for one womans obsession. This whole section further illustrates the captivating effect that Hitler had on people, particularly women. If there is one flaw in the movie it is that the portrayal of Magda and Joseph Goebbels is somewhat one sided. Magda is painted as the evil one, obsessed with the Hitler ideal. Only at her end does she appear remorseful. Joseph meanwhile, is painted as a somewhat weak and tormented man. It is a minor flaw in an otherwise flawless movie.

Downfall is a tremendous piece of work. It drags a little in the middle, but still remains riveting, purely because we have never had such a stark and realistic view of the War from "the bad guys" perspective. Bruno Ganz is a revelation and I can only hope that this movie gets exposure outside of Europe. It isn't anti-Semitic to like this movie. It doesn't paint Hitler and his minions as "nice" guys, it purely illustrates the desperation of war.

For me I came away with a stronger sense that the only way we can prevent such things from happening again is to try to understand what drives people to commit such hateful crimes. Rather than pigeon-hole people as evil, we need to get to the heart of the problem. In this time of increased fear of terrorism that is driving people to war, maybe that message is more important than ever.

In summary, I recommend everyone to see this movie. It is quite simply, the most important movie to ever come out of Germany and possibly the most significant war movie ever made.

Downfall - 9.5/10

Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Main cast
Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz)
Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara)
Magda Goebbels (Corinna Harfouch)
Joseph Goebbells (Ulrich Matthes)
Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler)
Albert Speer (Heino Ferch)
Prof. Dr. Ernst-Günter Schenck (Christian Berkel)

A week to go

I love elections. Yes I'm that kind of sad bastard.

In the US2004 Presidential I got hooked on a polling site that broke down each State and predicted the eventual winner. With that in mind I set about searching for a UK one. Why? Cause opinion polls suck ass. What matters are the key marginals, just like in the US when places like Iowa and Florida became king-makers.

Haven't been able to find one that covers every constituency in detail, but UKelect offers a detailed look at a likely result based on voter trends. Their latest forecast has Labour winning with a reduced majority of 91. More interestingly, their featured constituency predicts a swing to the Lib Dems that would see Shadow Home Secretary - cue imperial march music - David Davis booted from the commons.

If anyone finds anything better, then let me know.

On a lighter note, a british version of JibJab has surfaced. GBJab pokes excellent fun at the politicians.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The end of the oil age

For all the talk about taxes, immigration and terrorism, there is one issue that will never be deemed important enough to make it onto an election agenda. Next year could well see the peak in World oil production.

According to Colin Campbell, founder of the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, the danger is not the time when oil actually runs out, but the steady decline in production that will change our planet forever.

Once oil production peaks in the next year or so, we can then expect a decline of about 2-3% every year. The result? Our lives will never be the same again. We rely on oil for everything, from the clothes we wear to the computers we stare at 8 hours a day.

The IEA claims that the peak won't come for another 10-20 years, and state that there is a guaranteed supply for another 40 years. Even if this is true, does it take into account the fact that oil production and demand is increasing at an alarming rate every year? And, even if it does, 40 years is not a long time. Plans need to be made to take this World forward.

Rising oil prices are only the beginning. Without proper leadership and real investment in alternative solutions, all the tax cuts, pensions and public services in the World won't make the slightest difference.

Unfortunately, politicians only plan for their next election. 40 years from now, is someone else's problem.

Friday, April 15, 2005

For those who aren't sure

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome: Liberal Democrat

Your actual outcome:

Labour -30
Conservative -49
Liberal Democrat 76
UK Independence Party -11
Green 27

You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

Monday, April 11, 2005

Let the dirty tricks begin.

The election is finally on. This one promises to be the dirtiest in living memory with the two main parties fighting entirely on negative issues about who is the worst party to run the country.

Is this what we have descended to? American style opportunist politics, designed only to play on the fears of a deluded population, pumped full of anti-terror advice and false claims about the "evil" invading foreign hourdes.

At least one party is trying to campaign on a positive note. The Lib Dems have already announced their 10 positive reasons to vote for them. My only hope is that they don't get drawn into this deplorable pattern of mud-slinging.