Over the past few years, YouTube viewers are regularly entertained by a short portion of the German movie Downfall (’04).
Using a single clip from the film, these ubiquitous and frequently clever shorts show Hitler ranting at his generals as Russian troops encircle Berlin and seek out the bunker. The thousand year Reich has lasted but twelve years.
The YouTube videos substitute English subtitles that have no relation to the German dialogue being spoken in the film.
The comedy lies in the juxtaposition of Hitler shrieking in German about Jews, troop movements, traitors, and Germany’s destiny. And yet the subtitles have Hitler going postal over Obamacare or Benjamin Netanyahu — whatever subject is the target du jour.
For those who have seen the entire film, it is anything but funny. Instead, it is a powerful drama, multi-dimensional portraits of human monsters, some of whom are more monstrous than others.
For this viewer, the most monstrous figure in the film is Magda Goebbels. As the attractive and poised wife of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, Magda was dubbed The First Lady of the Third Reich.
In the film, as the Russians close in on the bunker, some Germans attempt to escape, some get rip-roaring drunk, others commit suicide.
Magda murders her six children. Then she and her husband take their own lives.
Who was Magda Goebbels?
How did this seemingly ordinary hausfrau become such a fanatic Nazi that when the downfall of the Reich becomes a reality… she wipes her progeny off the face of the earth.
The story of Magda Goebbels takes us into a realm that is beyond imagination.
A few bare facts: Magda was born in 1901. Magda’s parents divorced four years later. Magda was educated in a strict Catholic convent. Magda’s mother, Auguste, remarried when Magda was about 5 years-old to a businessman named Richard Friedländer.
By all accounts, Magda loved and was loved by her Jewish stepfather.
During this time, the Friedländers became friendly with a family named Arlosoroff. Later, Magda had a love affair with the son, Vitaly Arlosoroff.
Vitaly became Victor in Germany and under the spell of Zionism emerged as Haim. He was a fiery and passionate orator — as at home with the poetry of Heine and the works of Goethe, as the socialist theories of Syrkin and Borochov. Magda sported a Magen David which he had given her and she attended meetings of Tikvat Zion.
Haim Arlosoroff is a central figure in the history of Zionism. And his assassination on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933 has never been officially or conclusively solved. Though, after reading this two part post, I think you will agree that the evidence points to a Nazi assassination squad appointed by Joseph Goebbels.
My friend Neo-Neocon has written a superb two-part article: “Magda Goebbels: Heart of Darkness.” which I urge you to read.
The question most frequently asked of me by aspiring screenwriters is: “How do you create a compelling character?”
My answer: “Internal contradictions.”
In short, making vivid the mysteries of the human soul.
It is that simple, that complex.
And do take a look at this documentary about Magda.