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Film / Before the Fall

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"As childish as it sounds, the winter time and the sight of freshly fallen snow always fill us with inexplicable joy. Perhaps because as children, we associated it with Christmas. I always imagined myself the hero who killed dragons, rescued virgins, and freed the world from evil. As we went out yesterday to find the prisoners, I felt like that little boy who wanted to save the world."

Before the Fall (also known as Napola - Elite für den Führer, or NaPolA: Hitler's Elite) is a 2004 drama film directed and written by Dennis Gansel.

The year is 1942. Having come to the schools' attention as a promising young boxer, working-class teenager Friedrich receives a scholarship to an exclusive boarding school, designed to groom the younger generation for leadership positions in the Nazi Party. When his parents refuse to let him attend, he runs away from home and falsifies their consent in order to attend. The camaraderie and opportunities afforded are at first a blessing, and he soon finds friends, including Albrecht, the introverted son of a high-ranking official. But as the year goes on the ugliness and violent hazing hiding beneath the school's idyllic surface become clear, with serious consequences for both boys.


This work contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parent: Herr Steiner insults his son even when he's doing something right or complimenting him, enjoys watching him get pummeled in boxing and orders him to volunteer for the Russian Front when he dares insult his actions.
  • Academy of Evil: Well, the film takes place in a Nazi boarding school. The physical education is punishingly harsh, the supervision is callous at best, and the classroom assignments naturally reinforce party rhetoric.
  • Accidental Hug: Minus the "moment of joy" in the usual way this trope is played. Albrecht and Friedrich get into a fistfight in a bathroom, and just end up collapsed in each other's arms, clinging to one another and crying.
  • Artistic Licence – History: One of the historical advisors for the film wrote an essay about just how wrong the portrayal of the Napola (and society) was. Like Friedrich entering the Napola years after it would normally be done, and clearly only on account of his boxing ability, without much regard for his academic record.
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  • Based on a True Story: The academy featured is fictional, but such schools did exist from 1933 until the end of the war; the filmmaker's grandfather attended one.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Some very young students receive the news their father has been killed in action at dinner.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: You bet. Overlapping with Jumping on a Grenade below, probably the only time in film where a trench full of Hitler Youth has constituted "innocents".
  • Boarding School: Starting out as a classic example of the camaraderie-and-midnight-pranks kind, quickly revealing itself to be a Boarding School of Horrors.
  • Child Soldiers: While the students at Allenstein are ostensibly being prepared for all manner of government positions when the war is over, they ultimately amount to this, ages ranging between eleven and eighteen years old.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Friedrich is first torn between his family and the opportunity offered by the National Political Academy, and then between his loyalty to Albrecht and what is morally right, and the security Nazism offers at a terrible price.
  • Corporal Punishment: Of the military/public humiliation variety.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The shooting of the Russian boys is one of these for Albrecht.
  • Dirty Coward: During the grenade drop the Drill Sergeant Nasty instructor runs for it rather than try to save the students, forcing one of them to perform a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Downer Ending: Albrecht drowns himself during a school exercise, while Friedrich can only watch. Friedrich leaves the school in disgrace, stripped of his uniform. The real-life downer ending is delivered in the film's epilogue, stating that when the end of the war 'was near, the by-now fully indoctrinated young students left at the military academies were sent out to fight regardless of their level of practical preparation. Over half died.
  • Driven to Suicide: Albrecht, after realizing the horror of what he's complicit in.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: It's implied Albrecht's father disapproves of his son's hobby of writing, refusing to read his compositions.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Germany's going to lose the war, and either way the boys of the academy aren't going to come out looking good.
  • Growing Up Sucks: The gist of Albrecht's final class composition, and the film in general.
  • Gym Class Hell: Truth in television for the National Political Academies.
  • Heel Realization: When the dangerous escapees the students are sent out to shoot turn out to be unarmed boys, later crystallized in Albrecht's reading of his composition in class. Albrecht lacks the full awareness of what's going on that modern viewers have, but he clearly realizes he's part of something desperately wrong.
  • Hope Spot: There's brief moments of idyllic happiness at the academy, including a scene where the boys build and successfully fly a wooden glider. But it doesn't last.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure and Physical Fitness Punishment: One of the students, Siggi, wets his bed. When the harsh gym teacher is told about it, he orders Siggi to fetch his mattress, then to take off his pants and pee on the mattress. When he doesn't, the teacher makes the rest of the class do push-ups and jumping up until he obeys.
  • Jumping on a Grenade: One of the kids dies this way saving the others during a training accident.
  • Life Saving Misfortune: Freidrich being expelled, given how many of the students end up dying.
  • Measuring Day: A rather grim subversion; the physical exam Friedrich gets upon entering the school includes the usual data (height, weight, physical wellness) but also measuring his skull with calipers and checking his blue eyes and blond hair against a set of color swatches from most to least Aryan. He passes with flying colors, but put in the context of those who would fail such a test, the scene is chilling.
  • Mood Whiplash
  • Nouveau Riche: It is heavily implied that Albrecht's father has gained quite a bit of power and influence within the party. At some point in the movie he states that he'd have wished to attend a school like Napola as a boy instead of having to start working in his teens. Another hint is when Friedrich is invited at Albrecht's home and compliments his friend for his fancy house, and Albrecht explains that it has been requisitioned pre-furnished, meaning that the house has not always been theirs.
  • The Peeping Tom: Somewhat more benignly, Albrecht and Friedrich bond while trying to watch one of the few women around the academy undressing in her room after dark.
  • Scenery Porn: Has some seriously beautiful cinematography.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Albrecht is a dark-haired, sensitive, somewhat weedy boy whose hobby is creative writing; Friedrich is a blond-haired, robust, slightly pig-headed boxer.
  • Snow Means Death
  • Tragic Bromance: Friedrich and Albert get very close but their last encounter includes an argument Then Albrecht dies.
  • Training "Accident": The students are hauled out in the dead of night to help in hunting down some dangerous Russian prisoners of war who are hiding in the woods. While the situation isn't entirely a setup, it's clearly intended to test the boys' mettle, until it goes horribly off the rails.
  • Tough Love: Friedrich's dad tries to keep him from joining the academy and slaps him when he persists but its kind of hard to blame him.
  • Uncertain Doom: Most of the kids, considering how its mentioned the school was eventually emptied out and sent to the front where half of them died.
  • Why Are You Not My Son?: Albrecht's father, an emotionally distant officer, is clearly comparing him unfavorably to Friedrich.