At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: War Drama/ Stars: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch, Martin Semmelrogge, Bernd Tauber, Erwin Leder, Martin May, Heinz Hoenig, Claude-Oliver Rudolph, Jan Fedder, Ralf Richter, Joachim Bernhard, Oliver Stritzel, Jean-Claude Hoffmann, Lutz Schnell, Konrad Becker, Otto Sander, Günter Lamprecht/ Runtime: 293 minutes

It should be noted right off the bat that in the movie Das Boot, it honestly doesn’t matter what uniform the men we are following throughout the narrative wear. This is because in this film the people we usually, thanks to history and the majority of cinema, perceive as villains are actually protagonists this time around only because they are presented as genuine human beings who are wrapped up in circumstances where they are fighting more to survive than for the ideals of the country that they fight for and which may or may not ring true for them. Indeed on the surface Das Boot may seem like a typical World War 2 submarine film, but at its core it is a film which focuses on the human condition when placed under the harshest of tests, a time where any patches on their uniforms or the allegiance they swore is only background in a much deeper set of circumstances. Thus, I feel that Das Boot is perhaps one of the definitive films in the war genre alongside such iconic films as Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk among others because of how it showcases combat as incredibly destructive. Not just to a man’s physical body, but destructive to their very core and psyche on the level where a base level of humanity exists side by side with the conflict to simply make it one more day. A conflict that incidentally is king over any external ingredients that may mold, but rarely annihilate the most humane and immersive of those characteristics that we all share regardless of time, country, or uniform.

The plot is as follows: As that horrific conflict known as the Second World War is raging on through horrible and gruesome conflicts on land across both Europe and North Africa, the battle for just who will conquer the sea is quickly shifting to the Allied forces. Thus due to the Germans starting to panic that their bitter defeats in the Atlantic might allow for easier access for the Allied forces to reinforce and restock, they are finding themselves having to turn to younger and more novice U-boat crews to engage the experienced, powerful, and technologically superior British Navy. As the film opens, we see that a Nazi war reporter by the name of Lt. Werner is being assigned to report from a U-Boat with the designation of U-96 and report on the crew’s campaigns in the Atlantic. However as the men aboard her begin to engage in drill exercises and also settle into a constricted, damp, and not exactly comfortable life on the sub and become more of a unit, they begin to feel like they are prepared for if not excited to engage the British forces that they may encounter. Suffice it to say then that when the captain of the sub is given word that a British Destroyer has been seen, he gives the order to attack. An order that quickly results in the sub being driven back by a deadly assault of depth charges that soon threaten to annihilate the sub. Thus with the crew on the edge of their nerves and beginning to grow ever anxious about their chances of survival, they must regardless push on towards either success or certain demise at the bottom of the cold, dark, deep Atlantic Ocean…

Now even though the phrase does exist that, more often than not, history is what is told by the victor and in the majority of instances cinema has portrayed the victor as empathetic, relatable, and quite well-developed protagonists whilst making the enemy that they face into one that seems to be made up of a hive mindset group of vicious barbaric madmen who act like emotionless machines who, without question, are there simply to make life miserable for everyone. This film however manages to do the incredible thing of humanizing a conflict from the perspective of those who lost and showcases for us individuals who are just as human as we are with the only difference between them and the British Navy hunting them are merely matters of a personal nature and the conflict between them being due to their countries being at odds and not anything on a personal level. Indeed it really is quite refreshing for a movie to remind all of us that the spectrum of human emotion is something that ALL soldiers have instead of just 50%. To that end, it should also be noted that movie helmer Wolfgang Petersen manages to both write and direct this film and manages to focus on these people who are operating this submarine, but rarely do their country’s politics get inserted into the film and even when they do they’re usually brushed aside quite quickly. This is because the movie is instead a intriguing analysis of a group of people who are a part of quite an extraordinary situation to say nothing of the fact that they are people who are scared, cry, and pray for each other as well as their foes, and are just as real and have quite a few beliefs and values in common with everyone else. Indeed this film is most definitely not praising the cause that they are a part of, but the film is praising the fact that there is a sort-of greatness to mankind when looking beyond the human constructs of politics, symbols on uniforms, and other divisive things. Thus this film may be an amazing look at the art of combat, but is a way more incredible look at mankind in general.

Nevertheless it should be pointed out that Das Boot actually also manages to be quite a fantastic film in the war genre of moviemaking when looked at from a broader albeit superficial context though this is most definitely not the reason the movie exists. Indeed the film manages to quite potently conjure up the feeling of living, engaging in combat, being terrified in, and maybe even dying onboard a sub during the Second World War. Indeed not only must this squad fulfill their responsibilities whilst in a claustrophobia-inducing space, but they also must weave their way through a labyrinth of people, supplies, and bulkhead in order to do so. Thus as handled by helmer Wolfgang Petersen, the camera becomes a portal of sorts into this quite terrifying and physically draining world where the enemy is not always seen, but is quite often heard and even felt courtesy of the depth charges that make the sub do the rocka and the rolla. Indeed the film manages to ooze out an extreme degree of suspense alone from just the fear that can be seen in the eyes of the men as they stand silent and look upwards towards the surface where men and massive amounts of steel wait to annihilate them off the face of the Earth. Indeed there aren’t that many films which can generate so much suspense from so little, but that is what makes this film so potent and powerful.

Now it should also be noted that Das Boot is not only also a powerful success when it comes to Grade-A moviemaking, but it is just as technically a marvel as it is from a visual and emotional perspective as well. Indeed the fact that the film can be that satisfying and gripping on so many different levels is an ode to both the complete movie, but also to film helmer Wolfgang Petersen’s potent skill as both a writer and as a director. Indeed the fact that he ensures the film stays fresh even when it has a runtime of over three hours is a wonderful positive since even though there are areas where the film repeats itself, it never plays as that. Not only that, but Peterson works true magic with the camera as it manages to move to and fro with seemingly little effort through the condensed space available on board the sub thus increasing the feeling of tense claustrophobia, genuine adrenaline, and nerves on the edge no matter what is going on in the film. Now it should also be noted that despite being a foreign film, this is a movie which manages to completely overcome the language barrier in how it chooses to deliver dialogue consisting of absolutes from a theme and pathos perspective thus what is being said doesn’t matter as much as the context that it is being said in. Also there is not a single weak link amongst the powerful cast in this due to every actor giving both a potent and yet revealing performance. Indeed be it when they are drunkenly carrying on before setting out or when they’re silently and fearfully grouped together when the concept that they might be about to die written all over their messy, sweating a’plenty and desperately in need of a shave faces, you really can’t help but be impressed at the terrifying degree of authenticity being showcased by every actor in this. Last, but certainly not least by any means it should be noted that this film also showcases a phenomenal musical accompaniment that in so many ways is what defines the film. Indeed it is both energetic and eager whilst also somber and reflective and it manages to weave its way brilliantly throughout the film and strengthen every emotion felt from one minute to the next.

All in all it is the distinct opinion of this reviewer that Das Boot may be perhaps one of the single most powerful stories of the art of war as told from the “other side” with perhaps the exceptions of All Quiet on the Western Front, Letters from Iwo Jima, and half of Tora! Tora! Tora! in 1970. Indeed these are all films that manage to triumph not because of what they show of combat, but rather of what they show of the humanity which was involved. Indeed these movies all serve also as haunting reminders that in the art of combat, there are real human beings who are combatants on both sides and they have many of the belief systems and values that we do. Indeed this is the true power of this film and it’s only brought to your attention courtesy of extraordinary technical work and amazing storytelling skill brought to the film by helmer Wolfgang Petersen. It is to that end then that not only Das Boot is not only one of the best War movies ever made, but it is also a important movie that is way more than any of its superficial aspects even if they are quite engaging in their own right. On a scale of 1-5 I give Das Boot a solid 5 out of 5.