Friday, January 9, 2009

Valkyrie: Thrilling but Contextually Flat

Valkyrie, the latest Tom Cruise thriller directed by Usual Suspects' Bryan Singer, had my attention ever since its initial June release was delayed to October, November, and then finally; Christmas Day. In the end, the delay was actually a blessing in disguise because in all seriousness, what would a Jewish family love more, on such an irrelevant holiday, than to schlep on down to the theater and watch one of history's most horrific dictators and the Tribe's arch nemesis', Adolf Hitler's, near assassination.
As for production value, my money was well spent; Tom Cruise and the rest of the cast, including British, transvestal comedian Eddie Izzard, delivered fine performances. The story progressed at an appropriate speed; demanding constant visual engagement and, despite the obvious knowledge of Hitler's survival, evoking a profound feeling of anticipation. However, for me it was a different feeling of anticipation; a sort of negative anticipation of the inevitable disappointment or failure. Given my omniscient knowledge that the coup would fail, I sat there observing the minute details that snowballed into the entire operation's collapse. This unique perspective allows one to ponder one of many, many questions; was it von Stauffenberg's (played by Cruise) inability to flawlessly execute his role or a fundamental flaw in the logistics of he operation that caused the eventual failure? I choose the latter. Given the movie's extended, step-by-step breakdown of the operation, I was able to realize that the operation was too ambitious. First off, it was not enough just to kill Hitler; Hitler's death would only give rise to another monster; Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS and thus one of the orchestrators behind many of the SS's atrocities. Essentially, the plan was to kill Hitler and Himmler while almost simultaneously using the Reserve Army to arrest Nazi politicians and SS officials; which would essentially assume them total control of Berlin. Such a multi-dimensioned and complex plan demands seamless execution which, unfortunately, was not achieved in the last of 15 known assassination attempts against Hitler.
Yet, in an interesting paradox, the respect garnered by von Stauffenberg's decision to ignore the impeccable odds and carry out his mission was eclipsed, and transcended into a more poignant boldness, when Major General Henning von Tresckow said, with reference their operation, "We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler's Germany." This statement was perhaps the most powerful piece of dialogue in the entire movie; it provided a method behind von Stauffenberg's madness. More importantly, however, it revealed the foremost goal of the Resistance; to show that they [the German people] were not all like "him." As previously mentioned, the movie goes into unrelenting detail of how the Resistance were going to kill Hitler, but failed miserably at explaining why they wanted him dead. As a product of public education and the infinite wisdom of US History courses, I always believed that the unparalleled German depression of the 1920's and early 30's was so awful that the Germans, driven mad with desperation, were brainwashed into backing Hitler and his war machine. Whether it was blissful ignorance or malicious apathy, I essentially believed that the vast majority of Germany unequivocally supported Hitler and all of his evils. It was not until the very end of my high school career that I became familiar with another influential and very interesting German WWII ideology; the prevailing thoughts of the German Resistance. It's pretty safe to assume that Director Byran Singer, and his fellow Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie, chose not explore why the Resistance hated Hitler because, well, everyone hated Hitler. But, far and wide, Hitler was an ingenious military commander whose crippling flaw was simply gross over ambition. Until the end of the war, specifically 1944 which was when Valkyrie took place, Hitler took his country out of poverty and embarked on a deadly military campaign that was dangerously close to conquering all of Europe. In all, there was certainly cause to investigate Germany's hatred of Hitler, thus Valkyrie will never be more than an entertaining historical thriller.

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