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Film: Enemy at the Gates

Enemy at the Gates (also known as Stalingrad: Enemy at the Gates) is a 2001 war movie directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Jude Law as a Russian sniper in the Soviet Red Army in the Great Patriotic War, during the battle of Stalingrad. At the time it came out it was the most expensive film ever produced by an European studio. It's Very Loosely Based on a True Story, that of the real-life sniper Vasily Zaytsev, with the basic plot based off a three-page segment in a non-fiction book of the same name.

In the movie, Zaytsev (Law) is a young, slightly naive shepherd from the Urals press-ganged into serving in the Battle of Stalingrad during the German invasion of the South of Soviet Union in 1942. He barely manages to survive a futile charge at the German positions and encounters a political commissar, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), who witnesses him expertly take out five enemy officers single-handedly with just an abandoned rifle and five bullets. Impressed by the young man's gifted marksmanship, Danilov has him reassigned to the sniper division and uses his propaganda connections to spread the story of his exploits, turning him into a hero and restoring the broken morale of the Soviet defenders. Unfortunately, the friendship between the two becomes strained when both fall in love with Tania (Rachel Weisz), a beautiful young woman who crosses the paths of both, and when the Germans, themselves now increasingly demoralized thanks to the stories of Zaytsev's exploits, introduce the cold, ruthless Major König (Ed Harris) into the battle. Himself a brilliant sniper, König has only one order — kill Vasily Zaytsev.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness
  • Adaptation Expansion: The book the movie is based off of is a non-fiction book chronicling the entire Battle of Stalingrad. Although Tania and Zaytsev do appear in the book (the former much more so than the latter), the movie's plot is based on a brief segment less than three pages long.
  • Affably Evil: Major Erwin König, especially when dealing with Sacha.
  • Anti-Villain: Major König. He's hunting down Vasily and killing his friends, but he's involved in a brutal war which naturally requires him to kill, doesn't engage in atrocities himself until he hangs Sacha, and that's for being a spy, disapproves of torture as shown when he's told of Volodya's capture, and has only come to Stalingrad to avenge the death of his son.
  • Anyone Can Die: Not surprising, considering it's war and based somewhat on events that happened. A number of supporting characters, including Sacha, are killed by König.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Sort of. König is a Nazi, but at first he's less evil than cold and ruthless in pursuing his task, and his motivation is not personal glory but revenge for the death of his son in the very first days of the battle. Up until his Moral Event Horizon, he comes off as just a guy doing a job, and he does try to avoid what he sees as the need to cross that Moral Event Horizon: he knows the whole time that Sacha's selling him out to Vasili, but he tells the kid to stay home where he belongs (and thus out of the way), implying he'd rather not kill him. It just doesn't stop him when Sacha doesn't listen.
  • Ascended Extra/Demoted to Extra: Tania appears more in the book than any other combat character, but in the movie plays second-fiddle to Zaytsev and König, who take up only two or three pages. General Paulus is arguably the main character of the book (being the German commander and all), but only has a few seconds of screen time.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Law and Weisz played real people but both Major König and the main plot (German sniper sent to Stalingrad specifically to get Zaytsev) are now believed to be inventions of Soviet wartime propagandists. This isn't that surprising, really, since a Soviet propagandist is one of the main characters.
  • Battle Couple: Two of the snipers working with Zaytsev early in the film. They both die soon after being introduced.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The "Disgraced Officer" version was done in this film. Khruschev is brought into Stalingrad to replace the General who had commanded Soviet forces in their initial disastrous counter-attack against the Germans. Khruschev hands him a pistol and says, "Perhaps you would prefer to spare me the paperwork." He leaves the office, we hear a gunshot, and then Khruschev introduces himself as the new commander.
  • Boom, Headshot: Many examples, as this is the most fool-proof way for snipers to take out enemy infantry.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: Used straight in Vasily Zaytzev's Establishing Character Moment where he dispatches five Germans with five shots purposefully timed to coincide with artillery explosions.
  • Canned Orders Over Loudspeaker: Used during the battle of Stalingrad by the Red Army as a means to bolster morale.
  • Children Are Innocent: Not quite. Sacha feeds Vasili all the information he gets out of König, and gives König slightly inaccurate intel on Vasili, but seems to have no idea just how dangerous a situation he's got himself into and volunteered to be a spy because he hero-worships Vasili. Given that the kid's grown up in a war zone and has presumably lost his father to the war, his relative lack of innocence is understandable.
  • Chummy Commies: The Soviet Russians are Villain Protagonists of a sort, and it's okay to cheer for them because they're battling the even more despicable Nazi Germany, who are invading their homeland. The film even demystifies Russians for Western audiences by having British actors portray them.
  • Cold Sniper: Averted. Vasily is most certainly not cold and unemotional. Played straight with Major König. Tania in real life. According to the book, she referred to the Germans as "sticks", meant for nothing more than breaking.
  • Commissar: Danilov. Subverted, he is a fairly nice person - although his power does corrupt him enough to tempt him to use it to Murder the Hypotenuse because of jealousy in a Love Triangle.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to most American war movies, especially World War II ones. On the other hand, many Russians found it entirely too light-hearted for a movie set in the darkest hours of the Great Patriotic War.
  • Evil Versus Evil — Hitler had the Gestapo, the camps and starting the war via the conquest of Poland. Stalin had the NKVD, the gulag and starting the war via the conquest of Poland. The filmmakers were obviously hoping for at least an Enemy Mine sympathy for the protagonists, but asking American audiences to care about a Nazi and a Red chasing each other around Stalingrad in 2001... well, there's a reason the film lost at least 20 million at the US box office.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When König realizes at the end that he fell into a trap and Vasily has his sights locked on him, he doesn't panic or try to fight it with a futile attempt to dodge it. He just surrenders to the notion, drops his gun, and looks at Vasily before he shoots him.
  • Flanderization: In the book (and real life), Tania is an expert sniper sent out on assassination missions, with a love affair with Zaystev occasionally mentioned. In the movie, she's entirely consumed by her relationship with Zaystev, to the point where they entirely dropped her soldier aspect.
  • Friendly Sniper: Jude Law's portrayal of Soviet sniper Vasily Zaitsev.
  • Good Is Not Nice
  • Grey and Gray Morality: The factions are pretty brutal, but the morality of the main characters edges more towards this. They're mostly just duty-bound soldiers trying to survive a war or to avenge/protect loved ones, even when they do bad things. Also, neither Vasily or König ever demonstrate any real conviction in respectively Stalinist or Nazist ideology.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In the middle of a sniper stalemate in between main protagonist Vasily and the German Cold Sniper, Vasily's friend-slash-sentimental-rival, quite jealous that the Love Interest (now presumed dead) has chosen Vasily over him and disillusioned with the communist cause, exposes himself to the enemy's field of fire as a final act of friendship and gets a bullet in the head as a result; this allows Vasily to pinpoint the bad guy's position and kill him.
    Danilov: I want to help you, Vassili. Let me do one last thing, something useful for a change. (Takes off his helmet) Let me show you where the Major is.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Zaytsev is protrayed as the epitome of the freedom fighter, a peasant pressed into the military at its darkest hour. In Real Life, he had been an experienced hunter, had some education and had previously been and a technical clerk in the Soviet Navy in the Pacific Fleet. Though he was eventually transferred to the army as a senior warrant officer in 1942.
  • Hit Scan: König's "impossible shot" is literally that, since with travel time accounted for he'd have had to fire before he could even see Koulikov.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: König. Annaud said in the commentary that a big part of why he cast Ed Harris was because of his icy, unusually blue eyes.
  • Idealized Sex: There's a realistically awkward sex scene between the main protagonist and the love interest. It's awkward because they do it in the subways below Stalingrad, surrounded by sleeping people because it's being used as a bomb shelter, and so they have to try to not wake anybody up and don't have much room for themselves. So they just kinda roll over each other, try to take off each others' clothing and try to get his penis into her without waking up a guy sleeping a foot away.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Although it's justified in that the whole movie is about two exceptional snipers. The Nazi major in particular has some insane skills, including the ability to shoot through a piece of string the hero is trying to use to retrieve his out-of-reach rifle.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Vasili also has blue eyes, but his are the innocent, good-guy variety.
  • It's Personal: König's entire reason for going out to Russia to hunt Vasili. His son had died in Stalingrad early on in the war, and König wants revenge.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol
    Khrushchev: "I have to report to The Boss. Shall we cut through the red tape?"
  • Moe Greene Special: Vasily finally kills König by shooting him straight through his right eye.
  • The Modest Orgasm: Justified as Vasily and Tania are trying not to wake up the soldiers sleeping all around them as they have sex.
  • Morton's Fork: "Here the men's only choices are between German bullets and ours."
  • Nazi Nobleman: Subverted in that, while König is an aristocrat, he's just in it because he wants revenge for his son, who was killed in the first days of the battle.
  • Nazis with Gnarly Weapons: If you pay attention (or listen to the commentary track) you will observe that whenever the camera is looking down a rifle scope, this trope is illustrated; Russian scopes are shown to have a significantly smaller field of view than German ones.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The director justifies this in the commentary track by invoking a variant of the Translation Convention; since there are many, many different regional accents in both Russian and German, it's reasonable that a Ural Mountains boy sounds like Jude Law. Ed Harris at least muted his New Jersey accent, which would have been glaringly out-of-place.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: König, insofar as it's possible to be in Stalingrad. He's unfailingly polite (which gets downright creepy in his last scenes with Sacha, telling the kid he doesn't blame him for being a spy on behalf of his country. This just before he hangs the boy to draw out Vasily). And, as Rex Reed said, he seems to be the only character in the entire movie who has access to a bar of soap.
  • Oh Crap: The last two Germans Vasily kills certainly get one when they realize that in the span of less then thirty seconds, three of their comrades were killed, and they had little idea where the shots came from. The final one definitely qualifies when he realized his weapon was not within arms reach. (Something that EVERY army from WW1 on drills into its soldiers from the moment they start training. NEVER leave your weapon where you can not quickly grab it, and use it.)
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You:
    Konig: (regarding Vasily) He's not dead. And do you know why? Because I haven't killed him yet.
  • Pet the Dog: Konig tells Sascha to stay home, so he won't have to kill him for being a spy. Sascha doesn't listen, and Konig kills him and hangs him out for bait.
  • Playing Possum: Played straight with two characters both pretending to be dead in order to eliminate a German officer. On the other hand, the German soldiers were bayoneting corpses just in case.
  • The Political Office R: Several political officers are seen shooting anyone attempting to retreat. The deuteragonist Danilov was a reasonably nice person, though.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: There is no way that a rifle of that caliber would create a small hole in someone's head and nothing more.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Krushchev wants his soldiers to "Stop! Shitting! Their Pants!"
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Many critics loudly protested the presence of a love story between Jude Law and Rachel Weisz in the movie, which they felt was an unnecessary 'Hollywood' addition to the gritty sniper duel action. Ironically, the love story actually happened while the sniper duel did not.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Danilov exposes himself to draw out König, as one final act of friendship towards Vasily, after trying to destroy his image with the Soviets.
  • Reds with Rockets: This film has one of the few heroic portrayals of the Red Army in Western media.
  • Right Through His Pants: There's an extremely awkward sex scene where the only flesh shown is a brief shot of the woman's butt as she pulls her pants down. All other clothing stays on. This one is a justified, since they were in the midst of an army camp in Russia and were trying not to attract any attention, and it was cold.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: The Russian soldiers party because they're happy they're alive for another day and may be dead tomorrow. Veterans of the actual battle criticized this scene, saying that they instead spent their downtime sleeping or eating.
  • Sniper Duel: What the plot and center of the action is.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: The film opens with a graphic showing the Nazi conquest of Europe, ending as the wave of advance gets to Stalingrad. Curiously, they show Nazi Germany starting out with its mid-war borders and invading their Allies (Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgarianote ) and several neutral countries (Switzerland, Spain, Turkey) as well. This might be handwaved though if you simply think of the expanding boundary as Germany's "Influence" rather then its actual military conquest, which it did indeed gain over its allies and even the neutrals, as Spain, Turkey, and arguably even Switzerland were at least sympathetic to the Axis cause.
  • Take a Third Option: "Give them hope. Here the men's only choices are between German bullets and ours. But there is another way - a way of courage. A way of love of the Motherland".
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Subverted, where the German Cold Sniper was paying a child spy in Chocolate bars (to be fair to the kid, it was German Chocolate.) The kid was actually a Double Agent, working with the Soviets to feed false information to the German sniper to try and put him in The Hero's scope. It ends badly for him.
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Translation Convention: The Soviets tend to speak in British English and the Germans tend to speak in American English. Tania was actually from America and would be even less likely to speak British English.
  • Truth in Television: Around that point in the war, running away from a battle really was punishable by death in the Soviet Union. Stalin had ordered "Not one step backwards", and the commissars followed it.
  • Urban Warfare: Both in the film and in the Real Life events it depicts.
  • The Uriah Gambit: When Danilov makes a point to put Vasily on the front lines during the German offensive.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Besides the Based On A Great Big Lie main plot, other liberties were taken.
    • The film makes a common error in the Western view of the Battle of Stalingrad, and even the whole war (perhaps in large part because of this movie)—the worst equipped units in the Red Army, including those in Stalingrad, did not lack rifles but the ammunition for them. This becomes pretty obvious in hindsight, once you consider the logistical nightmare of war in general, and the fact that the Soviet Union, following the German invasion, was practically swimming in guns.
    • The real-life Tania was wounded and was separated from Zaytsev. She later found out (correctly) that he had been injured by a landmine, and that (incorrectly) he had died of his wounds. She only discovered that Zaytsev had survived and married someone else when she was interviewed by the book's author. The news devastated her, for she never married and still loved Zaytsev. In a sickeningly ironic twist, Tania had also been wounded by a landmine on an assassination mission, and Zaytsev was told that she had died. Since the author never interviewed him, it's likely that he never found out unless he read the book.
    • Zaystev is the only character who's portrayal matches the more accurate ones documented in the book; Tania is portrayed as a slightly sociopathic Cold Sniper, König is not seeking revenge (and likely didn't exist), and several other characters from the movie weren't real.
    • The film takes considerable liberties with future First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev's role at Stalingrad.
  • War Is Glorious: "We must publish the army newspaper again and tell magnificent stories - stories that exalt sacrifice, bravery. We must make them believe in a victory. We must give them hope, pride, a desire to fight. Yes, we need to make examples, but examples to follow. What we need are heroes."
  • War Is Hell: Despite the above quote by Danilov and pals. After all, it's the freaking Battle of Stalingrad...
  • World War II
  • You Have Failed Me: Khrushchev: "I have to report you to the boss. Perhaps you prefer to avoid the red tape." In this case, this done by the good guys, as Deliberate Values Dissonance.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Subverted. Commissar Danilov has a report written on Zaitsev's disloyalty, defeatist statements and disillusionment with the Communist cause, but Zaitsev survives and becomes a war hero.
    • Played straight when Khrushchev hands a gun to an officer that has failed to achieve a mission.

Empire of the SunMilitary and Warfare FilmsThe Enemy Below
DownfallWorks Set in World War IIStalingrad
The Emperor's New ClothesFilms of 2000 - 2004 Escanaba in Da Moonlight

alternative title(s): Enemy At The Gates
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