Archive for December, 2008

Stauffenberg- Tom Cruise

Stauffenberg- Tom Cruise

“Attention must be paid to such a man.” While Valkyrie highlights the resistance made by Claus Von Stauffenberg, it doesn’t pay enough attention to the man himself. Valkyrie is a well-made, tightly woven story of a plot to assassinate the Fuhrer and save not only Germany via a truce with the Allies, but in doing so to save all of Europe. While the film contains much to be admired and ought to be seen simply for the compelling story, there is an element which is missing and that’s motivation which might be scripted more for the intensity that actors like Tom Cruise and Kenneth Branagh could bring to their parts.

Stauffenberg has sensed that Germany will be ruined under Adolf Hitler even before he loses his hand and eye in North Africa. While placing the missing element which would take the film from a very good, nodding assent to a sublime, cathartic, stopped-me-short-of-breath finale, we need to be taken deeper with Stauffenberg. Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Hotel Rwanda all make use of historical figures willing to risk lives for fellow countrymen. But in Schindler’s List, we are allowed to enter Oskar Schindler’s revelation at the end from a self-serving, hands-off businessman to the frantic look that selling his ring might have saved one more life. Adding to the films is the emotional impact felt of seeing Schindler survivors’ descendants, Private Ryan as an indebted older man, and the Rwandan orphans meeting with a hotel owner who, like Schindler, risked his job and then life for others.

Except for a brief diary entry and conversation, we know that Stauffenberg feels Hitler must be replaced or Germany fall to ruins, a conclusion that tells without showing. We’re wondering the American political intrigue question of “What did Stauffenberg know and when did he know it?” It is no small task to ask a director to seamlessly interweave flashback of family, an ascent in the ranks, the initial attraction of Hitler to Weimar Germany, and an a imaginary vision of what the country might look like with Stauffenberg’s vision. But absent this, Valkyrie works more as a historical docudrama with some high-intensity action scenes. Some layers are added by showing Hitler’s motivations in discussing Wagner and in his eerie address to the German people conveying that his survival of the assassination attempt was the hand of God.

Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) accomplishes a technique which gives Valkyrie as much emotional impact as it can absent a deeper look into Stauffenberg’s soul. He plays upon the camaraderie felt between Stauffenberg and his right-hand man whose eyes meet Stauffenberg’s before their fated end. And Stauffenberg’s eyes wander to a secretary whose repeated calls represent the only feminine reprieve from the male-dominated intrigue around him and whose continual attempts to reach his family fail.

Singer’s storytelling works well here, much like The Usual Suspects did, by withholding key information from the viewer. While inside Berlin, Stauffenberg and the others appear to have changed the course of history. Hitler is dead. “Operation Valkyrie” has initiated the arrest of all the SS Elite, and Stauffenberg’s men have replaced Hitler and Himmler with their own chosen leader. By confining the action to the compound, Singer is able to withhold the information that Hitler suffered but a minor burn and cuts, that the orders by Stauffenberg to arrest SS Elite were discovered to be rogue orders instead of actual ones, and that their seeming history of changing the 20th century landscape of Europe had become a hiccup in one section of Berlin for a brief time. Thus, the words of Hitler dismissing the assassination attempt show that for all their work, they affected Hitler to have a mere, raised-eyebrows, shrugging of the shoulders. The effect for Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators, however,  is certain death.

And so they die. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German pastor, had a purpose for his death, which was to lay down his life not only for the good of humanity but because he revealed long before in his writings that grace was costly. Grace cost something (the Cross) and demanded a cost, that one pick up his own cross and follow. Bonhoeffer died in Flossenberg after walking naked to the gallows and being hanged with a piano string. 

See Valkyrie which is well-crafted because even without getting to really know Stauffenberg as a man, it is well worth knowing Stauffenberg’s noble deeds and those of his comrades.


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America is Exceptional

American conservatism is often derided by the Left for exceptionalism, or the belief that as a country, we’re different and exceptional (which sometimes leads to unilateralism on the order of Mark Steyn’s America Alone.) And there are always the two dangerous ditches– one of vanity and hubris which blinds one to the faults of his country and the other, self-deprecation which blinds one to the virtues of it. The ditch which the Left all too often falls into is knee-jerk apologizing for America.

Now with the proper sophrosyne and balance, let me quickly dispense with the customary precursor and invocation which must precede, “I’m proud of America,” and that’s, “Of course, America isn’t perfect. We have our faults.”

I supported Mike Huckabee in the Republican primary. He ended up in second place. I supported John McCain for the presidency. He ended up in second place, which doesn’t bode well except if you want to have bragging rights over Bob Barr. Heck, I lost my own House race by 55 votes (again 2nd place), and I might be jinxing the Cornhuskers just by rooting for them against Clemson.

While I’m obviously disappointed with the outcomes and hope that Obama is constrained by promised moderation, let’s take a look back. Collectively in the primaries, we saw a guitar-playing former Baptist minister, a Mormon business executive, a Kansas farmer, an Italian-American twice remarried district attorney, a decorated Vietnam Vet, a female lawyer, a black community organizer, a Hispanic gun owner. Now, the descriptors obviously are simplistic tags, but they aren’t meant to be reductionist or divisive.

The labels are meant to show that we have diversity and social mobility and one cannot compare Europe (much less Asia or daresay Africa) to America. Where is there such a diversity of candidates for executive office? 

To extend the analogy, remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Charlie and his Uncle Joe go and try some Fizzy Lifting drinks? Think instead of a dangerous fan that Charlie and Uncle Joe instead see the proverbial glass ceiling. From below, they  would actually only look up and see the sky for how could either one know how high he would reach until the ceiling stopped them from going higher? This year’s crop of candidates show that for all the supposed glass ceilings in American life, maybe the reason that the ceilings look clear is that they no longer exist the way they do in many parts of the world today.

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A Long Hiatus

It’s been since April of 2008 since my last blogpost. For excuses, I will say that I ran a vigorous campaign for the Iowa House and door-knocking, speaking, and fundraising took every spare minute resulting in a loss by 55 votes of over 12,000 cast. In the future, I’ll be back with musings on politics, the world, and “deep thoughts.”

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