Why Enemy at the Gates is Terrible

I’m afraid I had more trouble coming up with scenes true to history than ones not, being rather unfortunately bombarded by glaring inaccuracies in Jean-Jacque Annaud’s Enemy at the Gates (2001). First, the bad news: the depiction of the style of fighting by the Red Army at Stalingrad is virtually the opposite of the truth, the sniper duels between Zaitsev and König and the happy ending are pure Hollywood, and the given impression that Khrushchev led the Soviet army at Stalingrad is false, among other smaller and more-debated issues (such as the characters of Danilov and König and, inevitably, the whole Tania situation).

Jude Law’s portrayal of Vaseli Zaitsev

In the very beginning of the film, “zagradotryads” (barrier soldiers) are depicted being forced to face Nazi machine guns, half of them rifleless in a weak imitation of the opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan. The men are herded towards the Nazis by sadistic whistle-blowing, machine gun-wielding Soviet officers in an extremely foolish attempt at stalling the Nazis. None of this ever occurred at Stalingrad, the Soviets would never have wasted so many men in such a pointless fashion. This was purely for cinematic purposes to grab attention at the beginning and pull people in with an excess of blood—something that seemed to work well for Saving Private Ryan.


Jude Law’s portrayal of Vaseli Zaitsev

Snipers do not duel. It’s just a fact. They can’t. Once a sniper shoots, he or she must get away as fast as they can for Shock troops are on the way. Enemy at the Gates portrayed snipers like amateur detectives: stalking each other around and hiding, taking a shot every now and then. Sure, that bit with the mirror was cool, but it was pure Hollywood—completely historically inaccurate.

And a happy ending for the Vasseli/Tania romance? A likely story. In reality, Zaitsev received a letter notifying him of Tania’s death and he never questioned it. He married another woman after the war and had a family. Tania did not know what had become of him until 1969. They never saw each other again. But of course Hollywood couldn’t give the public this, oh no. They cooked up some impractical and improbable letter romance which eventually leads Vasseli to Tania’s hospital bed where she has amazingly recovered. And they lived happily ever after. *Closing music, roll credits*

What happened to Zhukov, Vasilevsky, and Chuikov, the real commanders of the Red Army at Stalingrad? Oh, we’re sorry, they have ceased to exist for the ease of the filmmakers. Instead, Khrushchev runs everything from right there. Of course.

Nikita Khrushchev

The love triangle. The most inanely Hollywood bit of the story. What is it but Twilight forced on the heros of the war? There is no way that Danilov could ever have met Tania. His contact with Zaitsev was limited and he would never have known of anything between the sniper and Tania. The love triangle could not be for that simplest of reasons.

Onto the rather few and far between accuracies. My favorite one: Khrushchev’s filthy mouth: “The Nazis are beginning to shit their pants!” We know he did talk like this, if not with the cockney accent of Bob Hoskins. Another accuracy: Danilov making Zaitsev (really Zaytsev, but that’s hardly the film’s most egregious error) a national propaganda hero. This did happen, thank goodness. Though whether or not a German Major König was sent to kill him is unknown, though highly doubted.

Note: This was a homework assignment for my WWII history class which I posted for fun.


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