When writer-producer Bernd Eichinger read the galleys of historian Joachim Fest's book "Der Untergang" ("The Downfall: Inside Hitler's Bunker, The Last Days of the Third Reich"), he knew he had found the dramatic key to a film he had wanted to make for decades, but never thought possible due to its scope. Fess' book focuses on the final days of the Reich, and Eichinger saw that the horrifying epic of Hitler and his people during his twelve years in power was reflected in those last twelve days in the bunker. "The final days tell us a lot about how the mass fanaticism functioned in the regime's earlier years and how it continued to reign until the bitter end," says Eichinger.
Eichinger read another very important book around the same time he read Fest's; the memoirs of Traudl Junge, Hitler's private secretary ("Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary".); which was later made into the documentary "Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary." "Fest gave me the time frame, Traudl Junge gave me the character who could hold it all together."
"Downfall" is the first German film to broach the subject of Hitler straight-on since G.W. Pabst's 1956 "Der Letste Akt" ("The Last Act") which was told from the point of view of an ordinary German soldier, played by Oskar Werner. Says director Oliver Hirschbiegel, "In terms of German film history, we are breaking new ground here, since there is no cinematic frame of reference. After reading the book, it was clear to me that if I committed myself, then it would have to be a total and complete commitment, meaning that I was going to spend two years of my life in the Third Reich, with all of those characters and that primitive ideology… My hair stood on end. My wife advised me against it. Yet I noticed that it just wouldn't leave me in peace, and in my heart, before accepting the project, I knew that I had already opened myself up to it."