Where have all the heroes gone? A review of Valkyrie

While discussing film with All Saints grad student Adam Stephens, a German student at U.T. remarked, “Why is it you’re watching so many German movies?” When he paused searching for an answer, she continued, “But then, it’s not as if American movies are about anything, are they?”

There’s enough truth in her comment for it to sting a little. After all when was the last time you watched an American movie that dealt with an issue of substance? But like most generalizations, this one falls short, too.  American movies are about things sometimes, important things, like German history for example. And when a hefty dose of morality, sacrifice and heroism, is added to one, the result is Valkyrie.

In 1944 a group of German Army officers attempted to execute Adolph Hitler, replace him as head of state, and sue for peace with the Allies. Most of us may be aware that such attempts were made, but probably aren’t aware of the details of the plan, nor of the character of those officers involved. Valkyrie fills in those blanks quite nicely.

Tom Cruise (No, I don’t  like Tom Cruise either, but I liked the movie anyway. Go figure.) plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg,  who begins the story as a minor player in the plot, but in the end becomes its chief actor.  Cruise’s von Stauffenberg is a German aristocrat appalled at the Nazi atrocities. The real von Stauffenberg was this, and a believer, too. (This is hinted at in the film, but never given any substance.) His co-conspirators are interested only in getting rid of Hitler until he schools them in just war theory, insisting that Hitler be replaced, not merely removed. In all, his effort was nobly and admirably considered, despite the fact that it was unsuccessful. For this von Stauffenberg is rightly remembered as a German hero.

One thought lingered in my mind after watching the movie: why is it that films with strong moral and heroic themes are rarely if ever made about the post-World War II world?

In their 1991 book The Day America Told the Truth James Patterson and Peter Kim offered this answer:

“70% of Americans now say that America has no more heroes. Why are there no more heroes today? There are no more heroes because we have ceased to believe anything strongly enough to be impressed by its attainment.”

Valkyrie is a movie for those who believe (or want to believe) that there are things worth dying for. Watch it and learn.