Making the Grades
How does one best serve his country? For Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) that question is becoming increasingly difficult to answer. Like the rest of his countrymen, he has taken an oath to protect the Fuhrer. But as he watches the atrocities of World War II occurring around him, the Nazi officer is feeling great shame.
After losing an eye, a hand and two fingers during a battle, the injured solider returns to Berlin with a new resolve. Although he knows his decision will be considered treason, he is determined to stop Hitler (David Bamber) and prove to the rest of the world that not all Germans are like their tyrannical leader.
Fortunately, Stauffenberg is not alone in his opinion. Approached by a large group of subversive, high-ranking officials and politicians, the Colonel joins their secret ranks and quickly becomes involved in their plot to overthrow the government. (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Terence Stamp are amongst the actors playing these roles.)
Their best course of action seems to be Operation Valkryie—an emergency contingency plan already in place in the event someone or something should threaten the head of state. Under it’s provisions the authority to maintain control would pass into the hands of the senior members of the military—the very men anxious to dethrone the dictator. If they can add a clause to the document allowing them to disarm the SS (and get Hitler to sign it unwittingly), then all they need to do is kill the despot and assume their rightful places in the chain of command.
While the scheme seems simple, it will take steely nerve and a poker face to pull it off—qualities that some of the conspirators may be lacking. And little wonder because all of them fully understand that should their coup fail, the resulting wrath of their vengeful opponent will be torturously fatal to both themselves and their families.
You don’t need to be a student of history to remember Hitler did not die by assassination. This foreknowledge adds a sense of dread to the already mounting tension felt as you watch the dissenters attempt to carry out their dangerous mission.
It would be impossible to dramatize the events of this true story without including the associated violence. Although the filmmakers put their main focus on building the suspense of the situation, there are still many on-screen shootings, suicides and portrayals of hangings (strung-up corpses are shown). Explosions, warfare and bloody wounds are depicted as well. Other content worthy of consideration are a few mild profanities, one use of a sexual expletive, plentiful cigarette smoking, social drinking and kisses exchanged by a married couple. Also somewhat disturbing are several shots of an artificial glass eye, which in one scene is served to a man in a whiskey glass.
Yet, as part of the free world that saw the fall of the Third Reich as a victory, it is hard not to appreciate these courageous men who paid the ultimate price for trying to find an honorable way to serve their country. And even if some of the facts are mixed with fiction in this movie adaptation, Valkyrie still provides an opportunity to introduce older teens to some real life heroes.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Valkyrie.
Why does Claus von Stauffenberg come to the conclusion he can serve either the Fuhrer or his country—but not both? Why does he feel this act of treason against his government is really a demonstration of his patriotism? Do you agree with his decision? What would you do if you found yourself in a similar situation?
What methods did Hitler use to get and maintain control over the people? Why were his countrymen afraid to oppose him? Is there any other way to remove a dictator from office than with violence?