Enemy at the Gates: Romance, Propaganda, and Historical Accuracy
History 12: Mr. M Wuerch
December 15, 2014
The 2001 film Enemy at the Gates is a World War II film set during the Battle of Stalingrad. The movie, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, is based on war stories told by a Soviet sniper named Vasili Zaitsev. The title of the film is taken from a 1973 nonfiction novel written by William Craig.
Set in 1942, the film follows Vasili Zaitsev (Jude Law), a Red Army soldier on the front lines in the Battle of Stalingrad. Zaitsev has impressive marksmanship and senior lieutenant Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) recommends portraying him as a hero in the papers as a form of propaganda. Zaitsev and Danilov both get transferred to the sniper division, become friends, and become romantically interested in Tania (Rachel Weisz). German Major Erwin König (Ed Harris) is tasked with taking out Zaitsev to crush the Soviets ' motivation. At the end of the movie, Danilov exposes himself in the hopes that König will shoot him, mistaking him for Zaitsev. This is what happens and Zaitsev is able to kill König when he comes to inspect the body. The film ends with the German forces surrendering and Zaitsev finding Tania in a field hospital.
B. The History
This film got a lot of things right on a general level as far as historical accuracy goes. In the beginning of the movie, soldiers are thrown into combat without much - if any - training, which is accurate. Russian soldiers in waves. When a wave of soldiers fell, another wave would take the weapons from their fallen comrades and continue the fight. This led to a staggering amount of Russian deaths. The movie shows that snipers were recruited in l...
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...t another film there.
While this film shouldn’t be looked at as an accurate source for the Battle of Stalingrad, it does give Western viewers some insight into the battle. A quick search on internet forums will show many people were surprised by a few things after viewing the movie. Many people didn’t realize how inept many Russian soldiers were at the time, or how they’d be shot if they tried to retreat. Viewers were surprised to see women on the front lines, even though this was accurate. Even though Annaud was criticized for the love story, it’s interesting that soldiers did develop relationships on the front lines. Viewers can learn some facts from this film, though it may be difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Craig, William. Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad. 1st ed. Reader 's Digest Press, 1973. 457.
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