Downfall

The 2004 film Der Untergang, (in English, Downfall), tells the story of the last days of the 3rd Reich, as seen through the eyes of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary, who is trapped with Hitler and his entourage in the bunker under Berlin. Bruno Ganz gives a gripping portrayal of the dictator as a pathetic, broken man, refusing to the last to accept any responsibility for the evil he has done or the destruction he has brought on his country.

 

The bunker’s inmates are in hell. In The Divine Comedy, Dante written the words “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, and the bunker is exactly that- a world without hope. The senior Nazis know that they have lost the war, that there is no future for them, and that the judgment they so richly deserve is coming on them. So they put on a gramophone record, open some champagne, dance, and have a party. There lives have become meaningless, frivolous, and trivial.

 

For me, this is what makes Der Untergang so powerful, and so frightening, for it holds up a mirror to our world. As many have argued, we are living through the slow downfall of Western Civilization. The judgment of God is coming on us, not least for the terrible holocaust of millions of unborn children, killed so that we could sustain our hedonistic lifestyle, and to maintain the illusion that we are gods who can do what we like with life. We are a world with no hope, and at some level I think we know that judgment is coming. But we are, in Neil Postman’s words “amusing ourselves to death”. We spend immense sums of money on entertainment and amusement, on hobbies and the cinema and Netflix and videogames. Our comedy is marked by satire and a corrosive cynicism that refuses to take anything seriously or treat anything as sacred. Think of “Seinfeld”, or “Have I Got News for You?”, or “the Simpsons”; or of the poisonous nihilism of “Game of Thrones”. A world with no hope is a world where nothing matters and everything is a joke, where nothing is serious. This is the hell that we can see around us.

 

The Apostle Peter diagnosed his world as a world without hope in which people were plunged into a “flood of debauchery” (1 Peter 4:2-4 ESV). He therefore called his readers to be a holy people, a people who were set apart and different. They were to set apart first of all because they were not driven by their desires and did not join in with the meaningless lifestyle of those around them. Christians are called to stand out as people who are “sober-minded” and self-controlled, who take life seriously. But what makes Christians like this is hope, the glorious joyful hope that is given in Christ, which should make us conspicuous to others (1 Peter 3:15). Perhaps the most powerful witness that Christians can have in a hopeless world is to take life seriously, and live as people of hope.