I love World War II history, so when Daddy found this movie I was very excited–in spite of the fact I already knew enough about the true story to say, “You do know everyone’s going to die, right?”
You’d think, then, that this might be a totally depressing film–and if there weren’t any heroes among the pragmatic politicians and ruthless tyrants, perhaps it would be. Thankfully, there are a few–a very few–honest heroes, and although they do lose their lives, they’re willing to lose them for the sake of Germany’s freedom.
Valkyrie is the story of the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. The main conspirators were members of the German military, men who believed Hitler was the ruination of their country and a mass murderer who needed to go now. To accomplish this, they’d take advantage of Hitler’s own strategy, Operation Valkyrie, which (if initiated) would direct the course of the German government if Hitler was ever killed.
Rather than follow the original plan, however, the conspirators would overthrow the Nazi government and make a truce with the Allies before Germany could be completely destroyed.
Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg, a German aristocrat, was the hero of the plot. A man of great intelligence and charisma, as well as a devout Catholic who never joined the Nazi Party, he believed Hitler was truly evil and had to be stopped. He began speaking out against Hitler and his policies after the invasion of Poland in 1939, but once he protested the mass murder of the Jews, he was exiled to the African front.
“The Fuhrer’s promises of peace and prosperity have fallen by the wayside leaving in their wake a path of destruction. The outrages committed by Hitler’s SS are a stain on the honor of the German Army. There is widespread disgust in the officer corps toward the crimes committed by the Nazis, the murder of civilians, the torture and starvation of prisoners, the mass execution of Jews. My duty as an officer is no longer to save my country, but to save human lives . . .”–Stauffenberg’s opening lines in the film
Stauffenberg lost a hand, two fingers on his other hand, and an eye when his troops were attacked in Tunisia in 1943. He returned to Germany, joined the assassination plot, and became, in many ways, the driving force of this ill-fated attempt to turn Germany around before it was too late.
Unfortunately, the plot was doomed from the start. The organization was infected with division; some wanted Hitler dead, others preferred merely his removal from power. Some believed Hitler was a depraved madman; others acknowledged he was dangerous, yet couldn’t rid themselves of the idea that Hitler had saved Germany from disgrace.
There were also too many men who got cold feet when the critical moment came; they wasted valuable time that could’ve been used to neutralize Hitler’s High Command. And then there were those who, when they realized Hitler was still alive, turned on Stauffenberg and his allies and sentenced them to death.
In spite of chaos and betrayal, Stauffenberg and his most committed friends persevered to the bitter end. Their bravery earned them a special plaque at the Memorial to the German Resistance in Berlin that reads thus:
You did not bear the shame.
You bestowed the eternally vigilant symbol of change
by sacrificing your impassioned lives for freedom, justice and honor.
Colonel Stauffenberg is played by–you guessed–Tom Cruise. Now. I know Tom Cruise is a nutcase. BUT! He is a fantastic actor. In spite of the fact he has an American accent (although he does speak his first lines in German–very impressive!), he plays the role of courageous, focused, determined, principled Stauffenberg to perfection. He also bears a striking resemblance to the real Colonel Stauffenberg.
Not bad, eh?
There was one line in the film that won me completely over to Stauffenberg’s side (if his condemnation of Hitler at the beginning of the movie hadn’t done it already). The affable General Tresckow describes the young colonel thus:
God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find ten righteous men. I have a feeling that for Germany it may come down to one.
It’s hard to say which scene is Stauffenberg’s finest. There’s the part where he sets off the bomb, of course. And then there’s the scene where he encourages his friends as soon as Operation Valkyrie is set in motion. But really, it’s the last scene where you see the extent of his courage.
He calmly encourages his comrades to look their killers in the eye. His turn comes last. The way he stands ramrod-straight before the firing squad without any hint of fear or regret . . . it’s impressive. My tender-hearted sister Carolyn cried and cried. I didn’t cry (I know, I’m odd), but I was sobered by the thought that Germany was the loser, not Stauffenberg.
I know it seems strange to admire a German in World War II–but Stauffenberg wasn’t a Nazi, and although he was still enamored with the idea of the Fatherland (his last words were “Long live sacred Germany!”), he defied the majority of the German people when he plotted against their “beloved Fuhrer.” He knew he’d be seen as a traitor. That didn’t matter to him. What mattered was that he did the right thing by opposing Hitler.
Interestingly, Hitler wanted the name of Stauffenberg “wiped out,” so he had the colonel’s pregnant wife sent to a concentration camp and their four other children shipped to an orphanage under a different name. By July 1945, a year after Stauffenberg’s death, his wife and children were reunited (with a new baby girl in tow), Nazi Germany was defeated, and Hitler was dead. The Stauffenbergs still live in Germany to this day.
So much for that last act of spite, thou tyrant.
My recommendation: Valkyrie is rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. That “brief strong language” is one really bad word spoken by one of the German generals in a moment of high tension. Otherwise, the language is minimal. The film is very suspenseful, to the point that my dad, mom, and I were about to jump out of our seats, so in my opinion the PG-13 rating is very appropriate.
I highly recommend this film to anyone interested in World War II. It’s definitely one of the best films I’ve seen in a while, and it ranks high on my “Favorite Movies” list.