German military plot to kill Hitler is subject of 'Valkyrie"

Tom Cruise depicts heroic Colonel von Stauffenbergcruise599_599

Tom Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who masterminds a plan to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, in "Valkyrie."

Director Bryan Singer avoids making the typical Third Reich film
By Anne Kirby

Valkyrie" is a mythical term that makes reference to the handmaidens of God whose gift in life was to choose who would live and who would die.

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"Valkyrie" also is the name that Germany's leader in World War II, Adolf Hitler, chose for his military succession plan should anything happen to him and his government.

The film "Valkyrie" is not the typical Third Reich movie that we Americans have grown accustomed to viewing.

What makes "Valkyrie" different is that it does not depict Germans soldiers speaking in the usual regimental and sharply clipped, Germanic tones and accents that have conditioned us to view all German soldiers as Nazi criminals.

Instead, director Bryan Singer presents his German characters - many of whom are played by British actors - as Anglophiles who speak American English with ease.

The effect is like a palette cleanser that prepares one's senses for something altogether new.

Without the terse and tautly spoken German, we become relaxed and better positioned to receive the message that lies behind Singer's "Valkyrie."

Able to delve deeper, we break through the surface tension of 1944 Nazi Germany, and come up with another picture of Hitler's Germany that surprises and releases us from the preconceived thinking that all Germans supported Hitler.

The real story in "Valkyrie" is the revelation that not all German soldiers were sympathetic to Hitler's supremacist views. In fact, many of them hated what Hitler was doing to Germany and its civilians.

"Valkyrie" is the story behind the story that presents the other side of Hitler's military - the human side.

Central to Valkyrie's plot is the character of Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who actually lived and whose portrait is shown above. Played by Tom Cruise, von Stauffenberg is brought to life through the actor's dramatic portrayal of the Prussian officer, who came from a respectable family and rose up through the ranks to become a master player in the Valkyrian plot to assassinate Hitler.

While lying wounded in a North African desert - after being shot up in a British air attack - von Stauffenberg's unconscious mind presents him with a vision.

In the film's opening scenes, we witness Colonel von Stauffenberg as a young, highly skilled  and ambitious Prussian soldier fighting for the Germans in Tunisia.

While lying wounded in a North African desert - after being shot up in a British air attack - von Stauffenberg's unconscious mind presents him with a vision.

Images depicting overzealous Hitler followers and Nazi loyalists combine with the image of Christ hanging from the Cross. Like the biblical story of the soldier Saul whose life was transformed while in service to the Roman government, Stauffenberg's vision is a life-changing force.

Awakening in a German hospital with only one hand, two fingers and one eye, Stauffenberg begins to see his role as a German colonel in a new light.

The meaning of his vision is clear. Von Stauffenberg realizes what the allied countries already know which is that Hitler's supremacist and anti-Semitic beliefs are an atrocity. He further discovers that these beliefs do not resonate with many of the German miltary and joins rank with them through his realization that Hitler must go.

Although partially blind, von Stauffenberg's conviction to assassinate Hitler is cemented in an assassination plot symbolically depicted as an artificial blue eye that becomes the colonel's conspiratorial trademark throughout the film.

At one point, the false eye turns up in a cut-glass crystal floating in the liquor being drunk by Major Gen. Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh.) Placed there by von Stauffenberg, it is the colonel's first attempt at galvanizing major military force behind the plot.
What all the German generals who support the plot have in common is their hatred of Hitler and their desire to save Germany from remaining synonymous with Hitler's Nazi regime.

Von Stauffenberg gains access into Hitler's inner sanctum by reworking Hitler's handcrafted succession plan, Valkyrie. Not knowing that the revised plan will be used during Stauffenberg's assassination attempt to overthrow his government, Hitler authorizes it with his own signature.

The film moves swiftly along toward its climax with twists and turns that reflect the complexities that von Stauffenberg and the others confront as the assassination plan develops momentum.

Eventually von Stauffenberg gains access to  Hitler, and his inner sanctum, by reworking Hitler's handcrafted succession plan, Valkyrie. Not knowing that the revised plan will be used during Stauffenberg's assassination attempt, to overthrow his government, Hitler authorizes it with his own signature.

Though presumably every filmgoer knows what became of the plot, one is not distracted but rather more intrigued by the film's humane, character sketch of Colonel von Stauffenberg the man: his ambitions, intelligence, his love of his family and perhaps even his overtly obsessive Prussian military mind that ironically could have saved the world and Germany from Hitler earlier on.

Although remembering all the characters' names is a bit confusing, "Valkyrie" is an excellent film.

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The cast of "Valkyrie," a film set in the dark days of 1944 Nazi Germany.

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