Movie Review: No 65. Das Boot

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Movie Review: No 65. Das Boot

There are only “nein” days left of my challenge, so now seems a highly appropriate time to review another German movie!

Allow me to introduce you to the movie ‘Das Boot’ by way of an analogy:

Watching ‘Das Boot’ is a lot like playing a game of ‘Battleship’…

Battleship is a simple game. You use a grid with basic coordinates to “sink” your opponent’s ships. Once you sink all their ships, that’s it, it’s over.

I remember the blue and red plastic Milton Bradley version mostly for the infuriating way the little plastic pieces kept falling through the poorly engineered hole in the case. I also remember it for the infuriating way my brother used to beat me every single time we played.

Simple as the game is, there’s something compelling about it. Much like the ever-popular (and equally simplistic) ‘Connect 4’, ‘Battleship’ is just one of those classics that will always remain in our hearts.

On the other hand, ‘Das Boot’ chronicles the final journey of a German U-Boat during World War II. Bon Jovi-less, I commended my 3 hour voyage with U-96 with far more trepidation than a previous journey with U-571. As my Top 100 movie challenge draws to a close, these 3 hours epics have really started to grate on my nerves. Nevertheless, I watched – subtitles and all.

Much like a game of ‘Battleship’, this film is an exercise in suspense. You might even say that the many submariners on board were playing a game too – the waiting game. It’s a slow movie. A very slow movie. But I didn’t get bored. Much like ‘Battleship’, this movie was elegant in its simplicity and equally compelling for it’s appeal to the most basic of human concerns. When I say elegant, I mean it. And when I say simple, I really mean it. One of my favourite parts of the whole film was watching the U-Boat dive. Barely a splash. If I were an Olympic diving judge I would give it a 10/10. If I were a ‘Celebrity Splash’ judge… well, if I were a ‘Celebrity Splash’ judge I would probably shoot myself, but that’s a whole different matter.

Me (updating Andy as he emerged from his online gaming universe, partway though the film): They just got bombed!
Andy: By the Allies?
Me: Yep.
Andy: Good.

Yes it took me half the movie, and a reminder from Andy, to clue into the fact that I probably shouldn’t have been barracking for our German protagonists. Although, to be fair, at 160 metres below sea level the whole point of the war starts to lose its sheen a little and you can’t help but think that these poor guys would have much rather just stay down than emerge and fight. In any event, it’s nice to see the other perspective for a change (after watching ‘Schindler’s List‘, ‘The Pianist‘, and ‘Life is Beautiful‘ in relatively rapid succession). As much as I despise World War II and everything it stood for, it is nice to see the Germans be portrayed as something other than pure evil. They were, after all, just humans like the rest of us.

Lieutenant Werner: They made us all dream for this day. To be fearless and proud and alone. They told us it would be the test of our manhood. To need no one and sacrifice all for the fatherland and courage. Is that not the way they said it all?

But it’s not all minimal splashes and monologues. I can hardly call this my kind of movie when the only women who appear are prostitutes (I’m starting to think that’s what war is like in real life). It’s a boy movie of the highest order and, sans Bonj, there’s just not much in a U-boat for us ladies.

I therefore amused myself for much of the time by testing my nautical knowledge. Last year I was involved in rewriting a Certificate I in Transport & Distribution (Maritime Operations). It’s a fun course to be involved in – very hands-on. In the process of writing and piloting the course, amongst other things, I learned how to splice a rope and I finally memorised some nautical terms that have eluded me for years. Despite several years of cub scout games designed to teach me the difference between some of the more frequently used terms, it didn’t really all sink in until this course last year…

And, just in case you want to go off and enjoy this movie, I feel like you should be prepared. Therefore, here is the quickest way I know how to share these nautical terms:

  • “Fore” and “aft” – well, they’re easy. Just think “forward and afterward” and you’ll quickly realise which means “ahead” and which means “behind”.
  • “Bow” and “stern” are fairly easy to remember too. People usually know that the “bow” is the front bit of the ship without even having to be told, but if you’re not one of those people all you need to think about is which direction you would bow in after giving a performance – to the front of course!
  • Finally, and this is the fun part, “port” and “starboard”. “Port” is the left side (when facing the front) and displays a red light. “Starboard” is the right side, displaying a green light. The way to remember? Well, you can remember that there is “some red port left in the bottle” if you wish, but my preference is to recall that the words “port”, “left” and “red” all have fewer letters than “starboard”, “right” and “green”. So easy!

Now, armed with your new nautical knowledge, I encourage you to venture forth into the world of the German U-Boat. And hey, if you’re a boy, you might even enjoy the movie more than I did.

My verdict? A “nautical, but nice” 6 pumpkins.

Have you seen ‘Das Boot”? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments below.

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