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Cinema in Focus: ‘Valkyrie’

The true story of the final attempt by the German people to assassinate Hitler is powerfully portrayed.

3 Stars — Challenging

Valkyrie presents the true story of the last attempt on Adolf Hitler‘s life by his fellow Germans that was named Operation Valkyrie. It was given this designation not because of the names of the attempted assassins, but because of a plan created by Hitler himself to secure the government in the event of his assassination.

Revealing his interest in Germanic paganism, the Fuhrer called it Valkyrie after the female figures of the nation’s mythology who are said to choose who will live and who will die in battle. In this instance, Hitler was chosen to live, and his assassins paid the ultimate price. This failed assassination event of July 20, 1944, is depicted in the film Valkyrie, directed by Bryan Singer (Superman Returns).

Written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, the little-known story of this 15th attempt by the German people to kill Hitler tells the story of Col. Claus Von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise).

A practicing Catholic who was appalled at the evil perpetrated by Hitler and his elite SS, Stauffenberg joined with other high-level officers to end the Holocaust and offer a truce with the Allied forces. It is unclear why Singer does little to show Stauffenberg’s religious motivation in the film, but he presents him as a man of principle who couldn’t live with the thought of a future in which his children and his nation would look back on him with disgust for doing nothing to stop the Fuhrer’s bloody reign.

Having suffered deforming injuries while leading the German army in North Africa, Stauffenberg is brought back to Berlin, where he is recruited for the assassination plot. Working with Gen. Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy) and Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), among others, Stauffenberg quickly shows his courage and his ingenuity as he suggests the use of Hitler’s own plan to seize control of the government at the moment of his assassination.

Taking Valkyrie to the next level and requesting Hitler’s own signature on the adjusted plan, Stauffenberg enters the inner circle of Hitler’s leaders. This access makes him the one to plant the explosive to end the Fuhrer’s life. But an unexpected heat wave at the Wolf’s Lair causes the meeting to occur in an outbuilding that removes the lethal power of the attack. It is this “providential event,” as Hitler claims it when he explains to the German people what happened, that foils the plot.

The moral problems that Hitler’s evil actions raised for the people of Germany were extremely dangerous to confront. That many tried to ignore what was happening is true, but that there were those both within the military and within the government who attempted to stop him helps balance the historical record about the German people in that era.

Although Valkyrie was a failure in its immediate effects, it nevertheless provides us all with a small window into the lives of those who tried to stop him. Their challenge to determine a moral course of action in the face of the evil executed by their leaders is an ethical dilemma worth considering.

Discussion:

» The fact that several Christians were involved in attempts to assassinate Hitler, from Bonhoeffer to Stauffenberg, shows that many Christians believed force was required to stop evil. Do you believe this to be true today? Why or why not?

» The controversy in casting Tom Cruise (a Scientologist) as Stauffenberg, who was a devout Christian, caused a problem with the Stauffenberg family. Do you believe actors in an historical drama should be chosen for their alignment with the beliefs of the person they represent? Do you believe a person needs to share the convictions of a person to adequately understand and portray them?

» The price that was paid by those who attempted to stop Hitler was the ultimate sacrifice. Is there anything you would be willing to kill for or die for? Why or why not?

Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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