James Nachtwey

Personal Statement:

James Nachtwey is a first year student at Pomona College from the Bay Area City of Berkeley. In his spare time he enjoys looking at the gorgeous female scenery around him in the Claremont area and playing football for the Pomona-Pitzter football team. His future ambition is to become a member of Congress.

My Favorite Quote:

"You see Iím undecided about Heaven and Hell because I have friends in both places."

-Mark Twain

The Paper:


Interpretation of Das Boot



"Das Boot," the work of German director Wolfgang Pertersen, follows the harrowing adventures of a German U-boat crew in 1941 during the height of World War II. The high day of the "wolf-pack" of German submarines is over, the film depicts a later period in which the war was going badly for the U-boats and Allied technology transformed what had previously been a slaughter a fair fight. The film is clearly an anti-war film demonstrated by the grim reality of life aboard a submarine. The lives of the 43 man crew is 90 percent pure boredom and 10 percent sheer terror. (Magill, p.388) Additionally, "Das Boot" reverses the heroes and the villains for us Americans. Yet, Petersen makes it possible for the viewer to feel sympathetic for the German submariners because their mission is survival not victory. Further, the film manages to capture a sense of heroism in a most un-heroic period of German history by taking the point of view of non-Nazi Germans during World War II. These themes are explored in Petersenís "Das Boot."

The film has a war-is-hell theme. The movie shows the harsh reality of submarine warfare from the viewpoint of the Germans. "Das Boot" differs from its American and British predecessors because it takes the German perspective. The shadow of doom hangs over a war movie that is told from the losing side. A title at the start of the film informs us that of the 40,00 young Germans sent out in U-boats, only 10,000 returned. These were virtually suicide missions. Whatever flag-waving notions of glory and honor these young sailors had as they set off in pursuit of British convoys were quickly replaced by the grim, claustrophobic struggle for survival inside a 10 foot wide by 150 foot long prison. (Magill, p.387) An observer can see the U-boats made vulnerable, and the "cruelty and magnificence" that had initially interred the journalist Lt. Werner was replaced by the grim reality of defeat.

Petersen proves in the film that it is possible to show sympathy for the German fighting man of World War II while at the same time distancing him from Hitler and the Nazi party. Right from the beginning Pertersen establishes his heroes as militrymen, not ideological Nazis. In the opening scene, one of the few scenes set on shore, the youthful submarine crew gathers for a last night of drunken partying. The Captain called "old man" by his crew looks over his men and notices their fear and innocence. One of the Captainís friends, Thomsen, rises and mocks Hitlerís leadership speech, which temporarily quiets the room. The message is clear: these submariners are truly good Germans filled with despair over their prospects at sea. They are unlike the uncaring, self-convinced Nazi leadership. Once set up this message is continually repeated. The Captainís "speech" to his men before shipping out is "Well men-all set? Harbor stations!" The captain has no patience for eloquent Nazi romantics of war such as that portrayed in "The Triumph of the Will." Petersen further portrays The Captainís disgust at Nazi rhetoric and emphasizes the crewís respect for its British foes. It makes it easy for the viewer to bond with the Captain and his men when they pick up British radio signals and sing; "Itís a long Way to Tipperary." Indeed the crew is made up of ordinary people, just like us.

The American Audience of the movie most certainly isnít cheering for British defeat, so what make the movie good? American viewer military doesnít want the German U-boats to go out and kick butt. It is the story of the German submariners that make the movie good. The viewer roots for the German submariners because the issue isnít victory but survival. The two-and-a-half-hour saga is a landmark in German cinema. It is billed the most expensive German film ever made at 12 million dollars. (Elert, p. 143) It is also the most popular film, both at home and abroad. (Elert, p.143) "Das Boot" was nominated for five academy awards and has proven to be the most successful foreign-film release in the United States. (Elert, p.143) As Petersen intended few of the characters stood out. The obvious exception was The Captain but even he like most of the crew werenít given proper names. The anonymity of the U-boat crewmembers makes the Boat the most fascinating character of the film. "Das Bootís" success is further due to Petersenís ability to create a detailed and realistic film which makes the audience feel as if they have accompanied the crew on a wearying sea patrol, cramped in a tin can. I realized how deeply the movie reached me on a physical level when the crew, after surviving a close scrape with death on the bottom of the ocean, gets a brief rest in port. Suddenly encountering an elegant room filled with food, champagne and men in freshly pressed uniforms, I shared the menís shock of reentry: a bowl of fruit looked so good it hurt.