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Film / Enemy at the Gates

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Danilov: Do you know how to shoot?
Zaytsev: A little.

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 (the Eastern Front of World War II, 1941-1945), during the battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943). At the time it came out it was the most expensive film ever produced by a European studio. It is Very Loosely Based on a True Story, that of the real-life sniper Vasily Zaytsev, with the basic plot based off a segment 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 female private in the Stalingrad militia, 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.

See also the 1993 German film Stalingrad and the 2013 Russian made Stalingrad for other points of view on the battle. Compare Cross of Iron, another one of a very small number of English-language films about the Eastern Front.

This film provides examples of:

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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • Zaystev was a shepherd in the Urals. The Ural Mountains have very few pastures and animal husbandry in the Upper Urals is virtually non-existant.
    • The train that brings the troops to Stalingrad at the beginning stops right at the bank of the river. The tracks actually end several miles from the river and they had to march or be transported by truck or cart to the river.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • In the opening, a map shows the Third Reich engulfing all of Europe, including Switzerland and Turkey, which they never occupied, and Italy and Spain, which were independent. It also depicts Germany with its mid-war borders at the start, prior to the invasion of Poland (and also leaves out the Soviet invasion of Poland and Romania).
    • The train that brings Vasily to Stalingrad quite clearly has a German locomotive, which the Soviet Union didn't use until after the war.
    • A soldier is shown locking the recruits inside the train car transporting them to the front lines. In reality, Red Army regulations expressly forbade locking train cars, for the obvious reason that doing so would trap soldiers inside.
    • In the scene where Vasili is brought before the cameras at a ceremony in his honor, the "State Anthem of the Soviet Union" can be heard playing. However, the film takes place in 1942, a year before the song was even written. Furthermore, the lyrics of the song are actually that of the modified version introduced in 1977. The national anthem of the USSR at the time the film takes place would have been "The Internationale."
    • The film starts with a mass charge, and has another charge latter on. Such charges were never used in Stalingrad due to it being a dense city with little open ground. Instead it was known for its often brutal street-to-street Urban Warfare, with entire battles occurring inside buildings. Zaystev and Koenig are also able to hunt each other over vast empty ruins, which would have been impossible with several million troops and civilians packed into a few square miles.
    • The barrier troops are shown machine-gunning fellow Soviet soldiers en masse as soon as they begin to fall back. In reality, barrier troops were used sparingly, and contemporary sources report them rarely, if ever, shooting to kill, since the Red Army obviously needed every soldier it could get during the desperation of the Nazi onslaught. If any Soviet soldiers were ever executed by their own troops in the manner shown in the film, they would have been part of a penal unit (i.e., a unit of convicts punished with frontline combat duty), and even then, just shooting a soldier without even a drumhead court-martial would have been unlikely.
    • The Battle of Stalingrad ends with a triumphant victory for the Soviets. Stalingrad was actually a Near-Villain Victory with the Germans taking over 90% of the city. It was through another army arriving to encircle the city and a winter siege that caused the Germans to surrender (Hitler ordered the Sixth Army not to surrender and to continue fighting).
    • Zaystev is stated to have been a shepherd in the Urals, is functionally illiterate and is a private and implied to be a conscript. He was actually educated, went to a vocational school for construction and accounting and was a certified rebar layer before joining the Soviet Navy as a technical clerk and rising to the rank of chief petty officer, and was even the head of the Pacific Fleet's finance department. He volunteered to transfer to the Red Army at the start of Operation Barbarossa and became a senior warrant officer.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • Bayonets are virtually never used, even in large-scale charges. Red Army doctrine of the time used bayonets quite heavily, and in fact did not issue a sheath for bayonets, leading most soldiers to carry their rifles with the bayonet constantly mounted, or mounted backwards.
    • At the time of the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army was not short of rifles, whereas ammunition was in short supply, thus the scene of issuing every soldier a clip of ammo and every other soldier a rifle is the opposite of reality. Troops could be sent into combat with as little as one cartridge, but they were never sent unarmed. The filmmakers might have cribbed this detail from the Imperial Russian Army in the First World War, which did occasionally send troops into battle without rifles due to arms shortages.
    • The charge in the railyard is signaled by a whistle, which the Red Army did not use.
    • NKVD Zagradotryad blocking troops in the charge at the beginning are shown wearing regular Army uniforms instead of NKVD uniforms.
    • Danilov is a Commissar, yet strangely wears an NKVD uniform. Commissars were members of the Red Army and wore Army uniforms. The rank of Commissar was also abolished several weeks before the battle (the role of The Political Officer would continue in the Soviet military, but it would not be its own rank).
    • NKVD Zagradotryad blocking troops machine gun retreating soldiers. While there were executions for desertion and cowardice under Directive 227, these were ordered by court martial and even then were very rare (summary executions were even rarer and were done in secrecy). The usual punishment for an unauthorised retreat was a beating and being sent back, or arrests and usually being sentenced to serve in penal battalions (which did have machine gunners placed behind them) for Cannon Fodder missions and menial tasks such as landmine clearing, or prison camps. Executions in front of other troops was, as Danilov points out, destructive to morale, which Soviet officers were well aware of. Additionally Directive 227 applied to retreats from occupied positions, not charges, and in October 1942, the blocking detachments were quietly disbanded.
    • Koenig has a noncombatant's commemorative medal for World War One veterans — unlikely, though not impossible for a sniper in World War Two to have been a noncombatant in the previous war — but he also has the combatant's version of the World War One Iron Cross, which would have made him ineligible for the noncombatant commemorative medal.
    • Koenig claims his son was in the 116th Infantry Division. The 116th was formed in 1944 and was active in Western Europe. Also the 116th was a Panzer Division. There was a 16th Division which was at Stalingrad and ultimately destroyed in the battle.
    • When troops are transported to Stalingrad at the start, they're locked in train cars. The cars were never locked, to allow them to defend the trains if attacked.
  • Awful Truth: Danilov cannot bring himself to inform Sacha's mother of how her son was murdered by Major König, so he lies and says that Sacha defected to live in Germany. Quite bizarrely, she reacts with relief and hope with the news that her son is a traitor to his country and will certainly be non-personed and sent to a gulag or shot if the Soviet authorities ever find him.
  • The Backwards Я: The opening credits and the closing credits are both presented in a faux-Cyrillic font meant to suggest Russian.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Zaytsev and Chernova were real people, and the story of the sniper duel was presented as fact in the non-fiction source book, Enemy at the Gates. However, the 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. (The only source for the duel with Major König is Zaytsev's memoir and no German documentation even of the existence of Major König has ever been found.)
  • 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 avoid the red tape?" He leaves the office, we hear a gunshot, and then Khruschev introduces himself as the new commander.
  • Blatant Lies: The German propaganda broadcasts are clearly these, as the German soldiers in Stalingrad have already established themselves as willing to kill any Soviet soldiers they meet on sight, in contrast to the broadcasts which claim that they'll treat any Soviet soldiers well in captivity.
  • 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.
    • The Germans also use it as a means of propaganda, in order to lower Soviet morale and entice Soviet soldiers to surrender to them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The ammo clip given to Vasily just after crossing the Volga proves to be important following the massacre at the fountain, when the Mosin-Nagant rifle that Danilov pilfers from a dead Soviet soldier turns out to be out of ammuniton.
  • 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 so the movie might be closer to the truth in that regard.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: König had a son, a German lieutenant who was killed early on in the attack on Stalingrad. He kept his son's war medal on him to remember him but gives it to his commanding general near the film’s climax. He presumably wanted his son’s sacrifice to be remembered.
  • Evil Counterpart: König is this to Zaytsev. Both are immensely skilled snipers but are polar opposites in most respects. Zaytsev grew up a poor shepherd in the Ural Mountains who hunted wolves for survival while König is a nobleman from Bavaria who hunted deer for sport. While Zaytsev is an enlisted soldier, König is an officer (a Major to be precise). And while Zaytsev is a Friendly Sniper who gets along with nearly everyone, König is a Cold Sniper that doesn’t seem to care what his comrades think of him.
  • Evil Versus Evil — The Soviets are shown to be only slightly better than the Germans, while omitting anything that would show that they were fighting a war for national survival against a genocidal Nazi invasion.
  • "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.
  • Fanservice: The only thing appealing about the realistically awkward sex scene between Vasily and Tania is the sight of Rachel Weisz giving the audience a good view of her butt as she slides her pants and underwear down.
  • Farm Boy: Well, shepherd boy is a more accurate label. Vasily grew up a shepherd in the Ural Mountains. It serves as a catalyst for why he’s such a good sniper; he was taught by his grandfather to shoot wolves that threatened their animals.
  • 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...
  • Funny Background Event: A few during the party scene, such as the young lady putting on makeup with a determined look in her eye, or the guy with the candles.
  • 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.
  • 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 battle, and König wants revenge.
  • Just Plane Wrong:
    • Stuka dive bombers have the obligatory Stuka Scream. The iconic Jericho Trumpet was removed by this time due to its negative effect on performance.
    • German bombers fly much lower than is safe for bombing runs. They would be damaged by the bomb blasts.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol
    Khrushchev: "I have to report to The Boss. Perhaps you'd prefer to avoid the red tape?"
  • Mauve Shirt: Most of the snipers under Vasily's command receive a small amount of characterisation before being unceremoniously killed off. Koulikov suffers from this the worst.
  • Mistaken Death Confirmation: During the latter half of the film, Vasily attempts to ambush Major Konig near a gravel pile full of dead Soviet soldiers. Due to having been awake for hours on end, he ends up falling asleep from the fatigue. During this time, his dog-tags are retrieved by a German deserter looking for war trophies. German propaganda and General Paulus mistake this as a confirmation of Vasily's death, and begin broadcasting this through propaganda trucks. Major Konig, however, isn't convinced, due to being the only one able to truly confirm whether he's killed him or not.
  • 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.
  • Never Learned to Read: Vasily is illiterate at the start until Danilov teaches him to read and write.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Everyone speaks with British or American accents (excluding some of the Germans, who speak German instead of English) 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. Some background characters are heard speaking Russian as well in at least one scene.
  • Not Worth Killing: At one point Vasily has his sights on a random German soldier smoking a cigarette. He doesn't kill him, ostensibly to not give his position away, but this likely played a part as well.
    • He says as much to Sacha later on, saying that he was just a rank and file soldier and that his death wouldn’t have meant much in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps he wanted the man to have a chance to survive the war.
  • 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, they are standing in the open, and they had no idea where the shooter was. 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. At one point Vassily is seen answering fan mail, trying to get to as many as possible, as "I might not be here today".
  • 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 hit were in the midst of an army camp in Russia and were trying not to attract any attention, and it was cold.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Koulikov. He's introduced as a wise-cracking veteran sniper brought in to help Vasily in his hunt for Major König. His sudden death at the hands of their skilled enemy is shown to really rattle Vasily, who begins to take his duel with the German a lot more seriously from that point onwards.
  • 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.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: The first battle scene shows hundreds of woefully unprepared and underequipped Russian soldiers frantically charging directly into entrenched German machine gun fire and being promptly mowed down. A few stragglers manage to survive and try to retreat, only to be similarly slaughtered by their own officers.
  • Sex in a Shared Room: Vasily and Tania make love in the crowded Soviet soldiers' bunkers, surrounded by an entire battalion, but keeping their actions discreet enough that nobody seems to notice — except the jealous Danilov.
  • 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.
  • Shown Their Work: While the film runs on various Artistic Licenses and is Very Loosely Based on a True Story that was already a propaganda piece, the very first sniping scene with Zaytsev hidden in the fountain is widely acclaimed as some of the better portray of marksmanship ever filmed. It gets right down to the tiny details, like Zaytsev accounting for parallax shift of his sights and using sling for additional support, making it clear someone really thought out that scene and consulted with a real marksman. Unfortunately, this creates a rather jarring comparison with the rest of the movie.
  • 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.
  • 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. A more realistic example as they’re not portrayed as outlandishly evil as in many works but they’re most definitely brutal and lacking in mercy.
  • Tragic Dream: Danilov has made his career as The Political Officer in the Red Army, but after trying to pull a Uriah Gambit on Vasily and then believing Tania to be dead, he admits that he no longer believes in the socialist cause.
    Danilov: We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there'd be nothing to envy our neighbor. But there's always something to envy. A smile, a friendship. Something you don't have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts. Poor in gifts. Rich in love. Poor in love.
  • 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.
  • Uriah Gambit: Danilov makes a point to put Vasily on the front lines during the German offensive so he won't stand in the way of his interest in Tania. More blatantly, after seeing the two together, he writes an article for the propaganda paper questioning Vasily's faith in Sovietism to turn the government against him.
  • 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.
    • See Kulikov mentioned above; the movie also depicts someone implied to be Ludmilla Pavlochenko as a one-off teammate of Zaytsev, who was last seen shot in the mouth. It's a survivable wound (Hayha did), but the historical Pavlochenko was never maimed in this way.
  • 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...
  • Where's My Gun?: Once the last soldier realizes that Zaytsev is there, and has killed 4 of his comrades, he quickly realizes that his rifle is not within arms reach, and tries to go for it... only to have Zaytsev introduce his skull to a 7.62mm bullet before he can get more then three feet from his starting position.
  • Working-Class Hero:
    • 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.
    • Invoked by Danilov and the Soviet propaganda machine. Vasily honestly wants nothing more than to work in a factory, being a foreman.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): Kulikov is brought in as a new partner for Vasily to help take down Konig as he was actually trained by Konig himself and knows how he operates. Konig instinctively realizes that he's being lured into a trap and kills Kulikov during his first mission with Vasily.
  • 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 to the boss. Perhaps you'd prefer to avoid 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.
  • You Killed My Father: Tania is desperate to serve on the front lines rather than military intelligence because she received news that her parents were deported and killed by the Germans for being Jews.