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Film / Enemy at the Gates

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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 subplot in the non-fiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad.

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 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:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The book the movie is based off of is a (fairly ahistorical) 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 treats Sacha pretty well before killing him.
  • 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.
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  • 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 he hangs Sacha, he comes off as just a guy doing a job, and he does try to avoid unnecessary evil acts: 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.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Zaytsev and Chernova were real people, but veracity of their exploits is doubted by many historians as either Soviet propaganda in the case of Zaytsev or self-promotion in the case of Chernova. The main plot of their battle with Major König and love triangle with Danilov are both regarded as complete inventions.
  • Battle Couple:
    • Two of the snipers working with Zaytsev early in the film. They both die soon after being introduced.
    • Tanya and Vasily themselves become this later on. This is especially evident during one encounter with Major Konig, as she manages to help him defeat the Major (non-lethally).
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Tania and the other women soldiers are just as filthy and unkempt as the men.
  • 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 asks "Perhaps you'd prefer to cut through the red tape?" He leaves the office, we hear a gunshot, and then Khruschev introduces himself as the new commander.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The preferred method of killing by both Zaytsev and Konig. Practically all of their kills on-screen have them shot in the head, one way or another.
  • 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.
  • Chickification: In the book, Tania is a borderline Sociopathic Soldier with a mild infatuation with Zaytsev. In the movie, she's a lovesick Damsel in Distress and love interest who occasionally is implied to do some soldiering. In real life, Tania's claims of being a badass sniper at Stalingrad are doubted by some historians.
  • Children Are Innocent: Not quite. Sacha feeds Vasily all the information he gets out of König, and gives König slightly inaccurate intel on Vasily, 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 Vasily. 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: We're meant to root for the main characters as heroic defenders of their homeland, but the Soviet government comes across very poorly, with a few scenes dedicated to portraying it as brutal and poor.
  • Cold Sniper: Averted. Vasily is most certainly not cold and unemotional. Played straight with Major König.
  • Death by Adaptation: You wouldn't believe Kulikov is anything more than a Mauve Shirt, but in fact he is the first person to contribute to the "Zaytsev versus Elite German Sniper" story and lived well past the war.
  • Demoted to Extra: In the book, Tania is the main "character" of the subplot the movie is based on (the real-life Tania was the one interviewed for the book, after all), with Zaytsev serving as her mentor; the movie focuses entirely on Zaytsev, and demotes Tania to a supporting character. 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.
  • Dies Wide Open: Tania has an Oh, Crap! moment when she sees a German soldier staring at her, until a doctor pulls a blanket over the man's eyes.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Danilov before his Heroic Suicide. After stabbing his friend in the back and eventually getting a child killed with his methods, he decides to help Vasily one last time... by ‘showing him where the Major is hiding’.
  • 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.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Konig doesn’t notice Vasily standing a couple of feet away aiming at him until it’s too late.
  • Friendly Sniper: Jude Law's portrayal of Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev. He's pretty affable and chatty towards fellow soldiers and civilians alike. On the battlefield, however...
  • Good Is Not Nice: Fighting Nazis is good, but the Soviet government was not nice at all, bordering on Evil vs. Evil.
  • 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 in Stalinist or Nazi ideology.
  • Heroic Suicide: 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, Vasily. 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 portrayed 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 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, which was at his request.
  • 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: Averted. 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 pull down each others' pants and 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 German 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.
  • In Name Only: The book is a non-fictional account of the battle of Stalingrad, consisting of a comprehensive overview of the campaign and the men in charge, recounts from civilians and soldiers who were there, and information from archives that had only recently been opened for research. The movie is... not.
  • 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 Vasily. 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. He doesn't display the typical class-based haughtiness or expresses a belief in the idea of Aryan racial supremacy like such a character typically would.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Everyone speaks with American/British accents rather than attempt Russian and German accents to stand in for foreign languages. In the commentary track, the director notes that this allows characters to show that they are from different regions and walks of life. It also sidesteps the language barrier between Konig and the Russians.
  • 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 cannot quickly grab it and use it).
    • Konig has a very silent one when he realises he’s been duped into leaving his hiding spot and is now in Vasily’s crosshairs. Instead of trying to run or fight back, he accepts his fate with dignity.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Zaytsev shoots König at the base of the index finger of his left hand with a 7.62mm rifle from less than 100 meters. We see a little splotch of blood, and König spends the rest of the movie with his hand wrapped in gauze. In reality, a shot from a rifle of that caliber at a range that close would have taken his index finger off, and very likely the middle finger with 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 Officer: Several political officers are seen shooting anyone attempting to retreat. The deuteragonist Danilov is a reasonably nice person, though.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: There is no way that German or Soviet rifles of those calibers would create a small hole in someone's head and nothing more.
  • Propaganda Hero: Vasily's backstory and natural talent are eagerly exploited by the Russian war department, who are desperate for a way to boost morale.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 Soviet soldiers party because they're happy they're alive for another day and may be dead tomorrow.
  • Shooting Lessons From Your Parents: The Cold Open of the film has Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev as a child hunting in the woods with his grandfather, who urges him to shoot at a wolf.
  • Sniper Duel: Zaytsev versus Konig.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: The film opens with a graphic showing the German 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.
    • The really harsh part is that Konig knew Sasha was a double agent the entire time. Vasilu's smart enough to realize he would, and that sooner or later it was going to end badly: it's why he blows up at Danilov for encouraging the kid.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Nazis are the villains.
  • Translation Convention: Russian and German are both portrayed as English, and no one uses Russian or German accents to stand in for the translation.
  • Truth in Television: While the opening scene is over the top, the Soviets did have to ship men and material over the river while subjected to heavy air and artillery fire. The Germans came close to taking the western bank of the river, and the Soviets poured in men and material into the vicious urban combat to keep the Germans in place while they prepared their counter-offensive.
  • Urban Warfare: The film is set during the battle of Stalingrad, with the main characters fighting through the bombed-out ruins of the city.
  • 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.
    • The film takes considerable liberties with future First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev's role at Stalingrad.
    • Vasily's rank is given as private in the film, whereas the real Vasily was a navy Chief who was given the rank of Senior Warrant Officer upon transfer to the army.
    • The snow in the mouth trick from Vasily's backstory is cribbed from Simo Häyhä's backstory.
  • 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...
  • Working-Class Hero: Played straight with Vasily and invoked by Danilov and the Soviet propaganda machine. Vasily honestly wants nothing more than to work in a factory, being a foreman.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Major Konig. When he deduces that Sacha has been feeding him false information and aiding Vasily, he drags him out into a trainyard and, apparently with much regret, lynches the frightened child from the water tower as a lure for Vasily.
  • You Have Failed Me:
    • Khrushchev: "I have to report you to the boss. Perhaps you'd prefer to cut out the red tape?" In this case, this is done by the good guys, as Deliberate Values Dissonance.
    • A more minor example between Konig and Sacha. Sacha never really was working for Konig, but Konig feels this way when he catches Sacha ratting on him and as punishment, he hangs him from a water tower.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Subverted. Commissar Danilov has a report written on Zaytsev's disloyalty, defeatist statements and disillusionment with the Communist cause, but Zaytsev survives and becomes a war hero.
    • Played straight when Khrushchev hands a gun to an officer that has failed to achieve a mission.
    • Also played straight in one early scene where poorly equipped Soviet soldiers are ordered to rush towards a German line. Their assault fails, and the ones who attempt to retreat back are then cut down by their own forces due to Stalin's infamous "Not one step back!" Order 227.


Example of: