10 History Movies That Mostly Get It Right

"Der Untergang" (Downfall)
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel poses in front of one of his film's posters. SUSANA VERA/Reuters/Corbis

"Downfall" is a German film released in 2004 depicting the final days of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, and it succeeds brilliantly both as compelling art and accurate history. The film is based on the memoirs of Hitler's personal secretary, Traudl Junge (née Humps), and Joachim Fest's "The Downfall of Hitler and the End of the Third Reich: An Historical Sketch."

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the film paints a pretty accurate picture of what it must've been like for the high-ranking members of the Third Reich living in an underground bunker when their failure is clear and their end is imminent.

James Niemi writes that the film illustrates how "unfathomable evil can be perpetrated by relatively ordinary human beings," and argues that the film doesn't attempt to make Hitler sympathetic, but humanizes him [source: Niemi].

Although it may seem an odd comparison, "Downfall" suffers from the same historical failing as Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." Both films have a very narrow focus on influential historical figures and their last hours before death. Within this strict lens, the films cannot at the same time accurately portray the wider historical context of their stories. Historians can legitimately argue that removing this context deprives their deaths of significance. Paradoxically, however, one could argue that the wider the focus, the more difficult it is to be accurate and objective.

The viewer would do well to always look on historical accounts with a skeptical eye, remembering that history is always more complicated than it seems on the page or in a film.

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