screen gems

This weekend, meet one of Oscar’s most controversial nominees


Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Jaw-Dropper: Downfall

We hate to begin Screen Gems with a reference to an internet meme, but here, it feels appropriate. Many of our dear readers will, no doubt, know the notorious “Hitler Rant” videos that have circulated on the web for years.  Amusing or not, they have a decidedly less-than-hilarious origin.

Downfall divided critics upon release in 2004. The film, based in part on the memoir of Traudl Junge, Adolph Hitler‘s secretary, portrays the events of the final days of the Battle of Berlin. Hitler (Bruno Ganz) and his deputies now function in a bunker amid shelling by the Red Army. Germany sits in ruin, its army decimated, but the Führer refuses to surrender. Hitler’s aides, including Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), begin to realize his total madness. Hitler doesn’t care if every German man, woman, and child dies. He refuses to surrender, regardless of the cost.

Of course, any student of history will know how this story ends. To paraphrase Eddie Izzard: Hilter ended up dead in a ditch covered in petrol on his honeymoon. Downfall doesn’t weave a conventional plot so much as provide a portrait of the insane final days of Nazi Germany. Much of the film’s power comes from a brilliant performance by Ganz. Modern pop culture likes to paint Hitler in caricature: a wild supervillain on par with any character in DC or Marvel’s canon. Ganz avoids that goofiness by doing something almost unthinkable: he humanizes the man. Hitler may well be the worst nightmare of the human experience, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t capable of warmth or affection at times. Ganz leans into these softer moments, which only makes his performance more frightening.

Downfall snagged an Oscar Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, though that accolade didn’t assuage its detractors. Critics of the film blasted it, claiming that by humanizing Hitler, it downplayed his crimes. We disagree. Downfall in no way excuses, the horror of Hitler, Nazism or the Holocaust, nor does it make Hitler sympathetic. It only underlines the real lesson of how racism and xenophobia led to the monstrosity of Hitler and Nazism. Men of pure evil are still men.

What has any of this to do with LGBTQ people, you ask? The Nazis predicated the Holocaust on racial and social hygiene. Along with Jews, scores of queer people perished in the Holocaust, or as a result of the War. And, with another dictator using attacks on LGBTQ people to justify fascist expansionism, we think it is time to consider the parallels. Putin’s war crimes may not have yet matched those of Hitler in scope. Let us pray the people of Russia recognize his evil before they ever do.

Streams on Amazon, iTunes & VUDU.