Valkyrie (2008)

Rated R. Our ratings: V- 4; L- 2; S/N -0. Running time: 2 hours

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under
the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one
to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there
was power—with no one to comfort them.
Ecclesiastes 4:1

Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” Genesis 18:32

In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
Isaiah 54:14

A meeting of the Resistance leaders.

2008 Focus Features

Director Bryan Singer, teamed with screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, has done his best to create suspense in a story whose outcome we already know. The July 20, 1944 plot to assassinated Adolph Hitler might be just a footnote to history, but it is filled with drama centering on a group of Germans who did not fall under the spell of Adolph Hitler. As a longtime student of writings of theologian/martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who also was a member of the wide circle of intellectuals and military officers opposed to Hitler, I found the film fascinating in its depiction of the details in leading up to July 20. Despite the carping of some about actor Tom Cruise, I believe he does a credible job in portraying a man who was willing to risk his life and reputation in a cause that would cost one man his life but save thousands of others.

Before Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) joined the circle of plotters there had been numerous attempts on the dictator, but Hitler, seeming to live a charmed life, avoided them all, by luck and because of his erratic schedule. Injured gravely in Tunis by an Allied bomb attack, Col. von Stauffenberg takes on the responsibility of actually conveying the bomb to Hitler’s lair. Recently appointed head of the reserve army defending Berlin, the Colonel and his colleagues plan to use “Valkyrie,” a plan that Hitler himself approved in the event that the Allied armies should threaten Berlin. The conspirators hoped to round up and arrest the SS and other die-hard Hitler supporters and then negotiate with the Allies for a cease fire.

At the fateful staff meeting von Stauffenberg was able to arm just one of the two bombs he was carrying, and when he left the one in a brief case under the table, it was nudged further under, so that Hitler did not catch the full force of the bomb blast. Others were killed and injured, with Hitler only slightly wounded. Col. von Stauffenberg in his hasty exit to catch his plane back to Berlin thought that he had succeeded, and so upon his arrival he urges the others to set into motion “Valkyrie.” Unfortunately a phone call and a later radio broadcast from the dictator dooms their chances. A series of executions and mock trials follow.

The conspirators knew that their chances for success were slim, but all felt that for the good of Germany they had to try. Nina, the Colonel’s wife, also was well aware of the consequences of failure, including the peril to herself and their children, but she fully supported her husband in his decision. Some years ago I remember reading a statement, perhaps by Martin Niemuller, who survived his imprisonment, that it was that tiny minority of men and women who resisted Nazi totalitarianism, many at the cost of their lives, that had saved the soul of the German nation and allowed its people to eventually take their place among the civilized nations. The conspirators suffered horrible deaths and were vilified by their peers for a number of years afterwards, but slowly in the 1950s German public opinion changed, and a bronze statue was erected in their memory. This film, as sketchy as it is in details, is a fitting addition to their memory.

For Reflection/Discussion

Spoilers follow.

1. Although it is easy for us to see how evil Hitler was, what do you think were the reasons that his people so enthusiastically supported him? What were the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, ending WW 1, that rankled Germans? What were the economic and political conditions leading up to Hitler’s assuming power in the early Thirties?

2. Were you surprised at how many times people plotted to kill the dictator? (The film does not mention all of them: see the Wikipedia article for fuller information.)

3. How are the plotters torn by conflicting values? That is, patriotism and love of country versus love of justice, truth and compassion. Bonhoeffer even set aside his pacifist convictions (he had planned to visit Gandhi in India) when offered the chance to take part in laying the groundwork for Hitler’s assassination.

4. How is the situation of the Resistance members similar to those who opposed the Vietnam and the 2nd Iraq Wars? What arguments and charges did those supporting these wars use against those resisting them? If you are not old enough to remember the Vietnam era, then what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they denounced the current war?

5. For a better film that provides more personal details see the excellent Sophie Scholl: the Last Days, which tells the proud story of a brother and sister, both university students, who dared to speak out against the Nazis and their suicidal war.

6. What do you think of the statement in the film, “God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find ten righteous men. I pray that in Germany he can find just one” ? Do you ever have such a sentiment for our own nation? Are their things of which our nation too need to repent?