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Das Boot [1981)

Here we sit at the bottom of the ocean.

280 meters below Gibraltar.

On a high place.

In a film which (throughout) performs the strange trick of forcing us through cinematic language to sympathize with a boat full of Nazis.

Funny trick, that.

I challenge you to watch this film and see if you don’t also end up pulling for the Nazi U-boat crew.

There is no shame in it.

For Das Boot is itself a propaganda film.

But to what end?

It seems, more than anything, like an intellectual exercise.

And it is precisely because it eschews convention that it is an enjoyable and riveting film.

Indeed, it comes close to being a masterpiece.

It is also a case study in personalities.

Nothing magnifies personality clashes like a claustrophobic metal tube.

I guess we all have to pay our dues.

And sometimes we have to pay them again.

Perhaps we are always paying dues.

Until we are dead.

The stress can drive you crazy.

And there are always people floating in the water.

Which is to say, life is war.

A war to feed ourselves.

To retain shelter.

To ward off the tax man.

To warm our bones.

To stay dry and clothed against the elements.

Urgent need to let some rest.

In need of medical attention.

Eating an orange like a scurvied maniac.

In which you root for the Nazis.

Like Godard as a boy in Switzerland.

In this strange, strange film.

And then the Allied hammer comes down.

And you are shown your sins.

You realize you have been rooting for the Nazis.

And as you watch them die, you are sad.

Because they were the stars of a good story.

And you became emotionally invested in them.

Even though they were (in reality) scumbags.

Or maybe they were just doing their jobs.

This isn’t sympathy for concentration camp guards.

This is a portrait of the poor schmucks who were floating on (and beneath) the sea.

And if I remember correctly, 75% of the 40,000 U-boat submariners in WWII died.

These guys had a very slim chance of surviving this ordeal.

Hard to tell if this is a great film (elegant simplicity) or a shit film (clunky ending).

It’s worth watching, though.

 

-PD

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