Das Boot (1981)

Das Boot

Director: Wolfgang Peterson Cast: Jurgen Prochnow, Klaus Wenneman, Herbert Gronemeyer, Hubertus Bengsch, jaunty pineapples

A German U-boat during the Second World War is sent out into the North Atlantic. The film follows the crew as they look for British targets, while at the same time also trying to avoid being noticed by British destroyers.

While it is understandable to be skeptical about a film which portrays supposed Nazis as its heroes, it is actually easy to sympathise with the main characters without awkwardly feeling that you’re supporting the regime. In fact, the vast majority of the main characters seem to be resentful about what they’ve been tasked to do, and are not out-and-out Nazi supporters (there’s only one central character that is, and even then I found him to be quite a sympathetic character). The film shows that your average Joe in the Navy wasn’t a fascist, and that thousands of young men were sent on hopeless missions that the commanding classes probably knew they wouldn’t come back from. They were also in a way victims of a regime that was hell-bent on taking over the world.

Subject matter aside, this film is unbearably tense at times. Most of the film is set in the submarine, which is unsurprisingly claustrophobic, and the film set successfully depicts the cramped, dirty, dark and I imagine extremely smelly conditions. There’s not loads of dialogue, but rather lots of nervous expressions and anxious looks between the crew members. At one point, the U-boat is spotted by a British destroyer which starts using sonar to find its exact location, and all you can hear is the “blip…blip…blip…” as we wait to see if they’ll be found. (At which point my dad shouts “turn up the volume so I can hear the silence!” which strangely, in context, makes sense.)

I don’t think you would have ever read the sentence “juxtaposition of pineapples and impending death”. Well watch Das Boot and you’ll see what I mean. After stopping off in Spain for supplies, the sub tries to get through the Straits of Gibraltar and ends up crashing to the bottom of the sea. While the crew contemplate whether they’ll ever get out alive, I couldn’t help but notice the pineapples they had picked up in Spain, jauntily placed hanging from bunks and tied to pipes. You’ll have to make up your own mind as to whether this is poignant or if we’re supposed to laugh at the absurdity of it.

Das Boot is not a light watch, but I think for those who aren’t usually a fan of war movies this would be a good compromise, as it is thoughtful and not over-packed with action. It’s a long’un but certainly worth getting to the end to the movie’s excellently (but also tragically) ironic final scene.

4 stars


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