Reel Life #31: Downfall, In a Lonely Place, and The Age of Innocence

Three films watched this week and two of them have to do with men who, at the end of the day, are their own worst enemy.

Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)

Downfall is yet another instance in which the sheer amount of memes it spawned meant I was contractually obligated to watch it at some point so I could have the full context. Even though the scenes in question have been ripe for meme fodder, it doesn’t diminish what is one of Bruno Ganz’s most legendary performances (along with Wings of Desire). Portraying Adolf Hitler in the last days of his life with the Red Army surrounding Berlin, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film does an excellent job demonstrating just what a horrible situation Germany has found itself in with a madman going progressively crazier as his delusions of grandeur can no longer be sustained. Downfall is a fairly controversial film for portraying Hitler as a human being. Whether or not such a venture is ethically sound is something I do not personally have an answer for. I feel Roger Ebert put it best when he likened Hitler as he was portrayed in this film to a rabid dog in that, while the capacity for pity is vaguely (and I mean very vaguely) possible, the world is absolutely better off without him.

In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)

Want a film that deals with many of the themes of the above without the potential ethical dilemmas? Try giving Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place a chance. Mr. Ray has been described by certain cinephiles as the original cult director in how his body of work has spawned many classics, yet, with the exception of Rebel Without a Cause, he didn’t really make its way into the mainstream. Shame, really, because In a Lonely Place offers a very interesting character study in how a man traumatized by the horrors of the Second World War has resulted in him developing a hair-trigger temper that repulses everyone around him. It’s also an unusual example of a film noir in that it has a murder mystery plot that only kind of serves an auxiliary purpose to the plot – albeit an important one. It’s not really something you see often in this genre, so it is worth looking into.

The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993)

I’m still not sure how this film made it into the Criterion Collection before Raging Bull or Goodfellas. Don’t get me wrong; I think The Age of Innocence is a fine film itself, but this would be like if the only Akira Kurosawa films entered into the collection were Drunken Angel and Kagemusha – quality products all around, but hardly his signature works.

Actually, Mr. Scorsese has a lot in common with Mr. Kurosawa in how they tend to be pigeonholed (mafia films in the case of Scorsese, samurai films in the case of Kurosawa), but there is much more to their body of work than those surface-level perceptions. You would have a difficult time believing that the same person who directed Goodfellas and Casino made The Age of Innocence in the interim because the tone is completely different. It was interesting seeing him successfully shift gears so dramatically, and the costume design is impeccable. Although I don’t think it quite hits the same highs as his more well-known films, I think it’s worth checking out. It also has one of Daniel Day-Lewis’s best performances, so fans of his should definitely look into it.

7 thoughts on “Reel Life #31: Downfall, In a Lonely Place, and The Age of Innocence

  1. Ah Downfall. I rewatched it quite recently actually! I hadn’t realized people thought it so controversial, though? I suppose it humanizes some of the people who are down in the bunker with Hitler, especially the children. But I think with Hitler and Goebbels it emphasizes just how detached from reality they were.

    And I’m kind of curious about In a Lonely Place now 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a coincidence. I didn’t see it for the first time until recently, which was well after the controversy blew over, but yeah, I would say that humanization is what sparked debates. You’re right in that it does a better job showing just how delusional they were than actually making them sympathetic.

      And In a Lonely Place is a good watch; Humphrey Bogart elevated almost everything he was in.


  2. Shall have to keep these in mind to watch. Intriguing point on how directors get linked to one style of film by a mainstream audience; I agree in that it would be nice for people to have more of an awareness of the range lots of these creators have. E.g. Clint Eastwood is not all Westerns, he has done plenty of quieter character films too such as Richard Jewell. I guess if you have less of an investment in films as a medium, though, it is easy to link certain directors to certain areas and leave it at that…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It might be because it’s easier to sort artists by their type than to do deep dives in their body of work. Granted, it’s not so bad in Scorsese’s case because his most well-known style is indeed associated with his best films (Goodfellas in particular, though I find Casino to be an underrated gem). It is a bit of a shame when it’s a director such as Kurosawa, though, because then their most interesting stuff doesn’t get as much attention. To be fair, Seven Samurai absolutely lives up to the praise it has received over the years, but I actually think his best one is High and Low, which was a police procedural crime drama that took place in contemporary (meaning 1963) Japan.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree about Downfall, really a great film. I think Ebert is right in his assessment there too. I don’t know if I can make an ethical call on this either, but though Hitler was undoubtedly a horrifically evil man, he was still a man — not a demon from Hell or something, and Bruno Ganz played him in a way that seemed realistic but still portrayed him as the man he was. Makes it all the scarier that one human could inspire such a vile movement and cause so much death and destruction I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed. It would be highly disingenuous to say Hitler was a normal human because plenty of people have been put in situations worse than his, and they didn’t begin to harbor genocidal thoughts. Regardless, it’s important to know that he was a human and not a demon so as to really understand how people like that function and where they come from.

      And it helps that Bruno Ganz was quite the force. He was great in Wings of Desire as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: January 2021 in Summary: Has the Decade Started Yet? | Extra Life

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