Last night, it was announced that the Pope, John Paul II, was preparing to die. We left the media to play it out, setting the video to record the entire evening, seeking that moment of catastrophe that only the news presenter can now convey to us. It was not clear how much time he had left, but the news would suggest only hours, as they continue to do today. It is now around 6pm and the coverage has become considerably more measured and expectant, though it is likely that he will continue for another night. After setting the video, we proceeded out to the cinema, where we watched the long-awaited German film, The Downfall. It tells the story of Adolf Hitler’s final days, as the war is about to end. As I was watching the portrayal of this historic figure, I could not help but compare the life and character of this man with the contrasting greatness of John Paul II. While a comparison of this kind might appear to be grossly untasteful, there does seem to be something meaningful about their different iconic status. There seems first something terribly interesting about Downfall. The film maintains a dignified encounter with the terror and grade of this figure and one finds compelled by his vision. There also seems something very authentic about its having been made by a German production company, which further reinforces its importance as a statement about how far we have come in dealing with this forgettable past.
To this extent, the fading of the Pope is similarly moving for me, an agnostic at best. One feels the need for people to gather and reclaim some sense of the spiritual and non-trivial celebrity whose character – for better or worse – is based on something sincere and real. This is what they both represent. This is why Hitler’s Downfall is reminiscent of the Pope’s death and both are played-out through their respective fictional spaces - for the Pope BBC News 24, for Hitler, The Downfall.