- Movie Rating -

Das Boot (1981)

| September 18, 1981

I ask any film to challenge me, to ask questions, to jog my intellectual muscles and consider what is on the screen.  Das Boot is a film that does this in a very simple way.  This is a movie that takes place within the dimensions of a German U-Boat.  The spaces are so cramped with people and equipment and eventually water that it would cause a person suffering from even the slightest bit of claustrophobia to go mad.  The stations are simply corners, the barracks are tight bunks, and the mess is so small that a person moving around has to ask permission to pass.

The men aboard this boat don’t seem to suffer from claustrophobia.  I found that I had to bring my own with me.  It asks you to consider the conditions under which you must endure for . . . how long are you at sea?  And don’t forget, this is wartime.

The challenge, really, isn’t our visceral claustrophobia, but with the fact that the men aboard this ship are German’s fighting Hitler’s war.  In that way, we have a detachment.  Yet, the screenplay makes them into a people, men doing a job.  They are specific, and yet vague enough that we can only respect them as fellow human beings – if, of course, the idea of The Brotherhood of Man is employed.  Were this any allied ship, our hearts would go with them. Since they fight for the Nazi cause, we stand away from them, and I think that is invaluable to the movie because our emotional investment always stands a few feet away.  This is an interesting approach in the same year that gave us Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The detachment allows a certain angle that an American production would not allow.  When the soldiers die in an attack, their deaths are not reported and are simply written off to make the attack look less tragic than it was.  No doubt, American officials would do this but certainly no American film would allow such a development to be part of the plot.  The fact that these are German’s fighting for Hitler shifts that balance.

The only character that we really have any connection with is the captain (Jurgen Prochnow), a sturdy man that has earned his position as the commander of this ship and who has earned the respect of his crew.  While he fights for the Nazi cause, he does not ally himself with them and is even critical of the high command’s fumbling and often idiotic planning of their current mission to bomb allied shipping in the North Atlantic. 

The madness that this man must endure from the high command and on his own ship would drive anyone crazy.  What is in his head is only relayed to a journalist travelling on board (Lothar-Gunther Buckheim) who is suppose to be our presence but also allows an expository outlet.  When things in the plot need to be explained, they are explained to him as a journalist.

But the characters aren’t the point.  This movie is an exercise in helping us to understand the dimensions of a submarine at war.  The camera moves back and forth through the, dark cramped corridors, taking us on a bewildering journey as the ship is rocked and damaged by the enemy and by the pressure on the hull itself.  And it never feels like clean set-ups.  There’s randomness, chaos, noise, shouting, all of it beautifully orchestrated.  It is scary, loud and undeniably breathtaking.  It puts us inside a space that we wouldn’t want to be in and sees it for all of its horror.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized