Sunday, November 27, 2011

DAS BOOT (Wolfgang Petersen, 1981, Germany)

Men buried at sea in a steel coffin, confined to a hellish existence where lungs expand with diesel fumes and the hearts contract with the pressure of fear. The glory days of the wolfpack are gone, where the Swastika once rose over the breakwaters of victory it now drowns in a sea of violent desperation.

Wolfgang Peterson directs this ironic and iconic tale of U-Boat crew who must bond as soldiers and men, learn to co-exists in a metal microcosm where political ideologies are relegated to flyspecked photographs staring with impotence, echoing hollow fanaticism ignoble and abhorred. The story's axis balances upon a naive journalist full of patriotic fury, who wishes to write an expose about these sunken heroes of the Fatherland. Lt. Werner documents by turning ink and paper into flesh and blood, the swift curl of cursive characters transformed into real men who sweat cold fear, bleeding faith but praying for luck. This baby-faced correspondent learns that war is simple men murdering for their country, a rude awakening from the sleep of the unjust. By the film's end, he is tarnished by iron reality, patriotism soured with a healthy respect for the enemy, his heartbeat a sonic ping tight with tension torn apart by emotional depth charges.

Though the story is mainly told from Lt. Werner's perspective, the film belongs to the Commander who is simply referred to by rank, a man who carries the weight of responsibility like an iron cross around his neck. His face seems hollowed out, sunken, eaten from the inside and scarred from the ravages of war and dis-ease. He is as solid as his vessel, able to withstand the absolute pressures of combat, but dreams of sailing tall ships like a ghost from another time haunting the waves. He sees his men become one entity, boys born into men, acting together to survive by following orders and routine. But every man has his breaking point and even the most rugged veteran falls in this psychological warfare, as minds twist and crack at the seams.

DAS BOOT may fall at times into cliché and balance on the precipice of melodrama, but the tight compositions crush with claustrophobia and imbue the film with a subliminal tension. Peterson’s intention may have been to create a film so realistic that it would demonize war, but it can be seen as a patriotic salute to a bleak time in German history when men became heroes despite their insane Fuhrer. The final irony dilutes this perception however, as these men suffer an ignoble end.

Final Grade: (B+)

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