Around 2008, the very best meme on the entire internet was the Downfall parody.
It’s based on a clip of the German film Downfall, from a scene where Adolf Hitler, losing WWII from his underground bunker in Berlin, is told he cannot win the war – and absolutely loses it at his underlings.
Turned out that you could put a rant just about anything in the subtitles, and it would be funny.
Of course, the reason the meme works so well is because of the absolutely compelling original performance, by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz.
He was also in the Kate Winslet film The Reader and Wim Wenders’ cult classic The Wings Of Desire, among dozens of other credits. And he nearly played Richard Gere’s role in Pretty Woman, which suggests an alternative universe where Richard Gere played an unravelling Hitler to critical acclaim.
He was also considered the greatest living actor in the German-speaking theatre.
But unlike most acclaimed and beloved Swiss theatre actors, he also brought joy to millions and gained a new level of notoriety for his most famous performance through an extremely silly appropriation of it that gave us a new way to complain about stuff.
Ganz never made any public comments about the meme, but the film’s director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, said in multiple interviews that he loved them.
“I think I’ve seen about 145 of them!” he told NY Mag in 2010. “Of course, I have to put the sound down when I watch. Many times the lines are so funny, I laugh out loud, and I’m laughing about the scene that I staged myself! You couldn’t get a better compliment as a director.”
“The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality.
“I think it’s only fair if now it’s taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like.”
And in 2015, he told The Big Issue:
“Humour comes from intelligence and where there is intelligence there is curiosity and if you are curious and asking questions there will not be war.
“Laughing is the best cure to ensure the evil is kept at bay.”
Ganz’ performance in that scene goes beyond genuine terror or memeworthy rants – it gave us a little of the best and worst in ourselves.