Historical Accuracy of the Film Valkyrie Starring Tom Cruise Research Paper

Pages: 7 (2072 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Freshman  ·  Topic: Drama - World

Valkyrie

Planning

The 2008 film Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise is a Hollywood version of actual historical events. As with any Hollywood rendition of a true story, the screenwriters and filmmakers feel they must extrapolate from and embellish actual historical fact to make for a compelling on-screen narrative. Even with a story as remarkable as that of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, filmmakers like Bryan Singer are not producing a documentary but a drama. Therefore, the central questions in this investigative research report are as follows: To what degree does Bryan Singer's 2008 film conform to historical fact? How accurate is the film in conveying not just the events of the foiled plot to assassinate Hitler but also the character of Claus von Stauffenberg? What elements did Singer get right, and which are alarmingly wrong?

Summary of Evidence

To accomplish this research goal, the first step must of course be to watch the film. Starring Tom Cruise, Valkyrie comes across as being far sillier than it should for a film about such a powerful, grave subject. The casting is terrible, but so too is the overall feel of the film. Instead of seeming dark and disturbing, Valkyrie comes across as being some kind of Bruckheimer-esque hero film. The accents are all wrong, too: As one reviewer for the UK Guardian puts it, "Von Stauffenberg's cohorts are played by British actors…who deliver their lines in English accents. The villainous Nazi is portrayed by German actor Thomas Kretschmann who speaks English in a German accent. And then - standing separate and apart - is Cruise himself, intoning his lines in pureblood American," (Brooks).

Issues of language and accent aside, what did Singer do with the facts? After all, this research is not a film critique per se, but an analysis of the historical accuracy of Valkyrie. Therefore, while the initial portion of the research involves a close scrutiny of the DVD version of Valkyrie, the bulk of the planning phase involves investigating sources related to the history of World War Two. In particular, the historical research entails examining mainly secondary sources that are about the biography of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, and specifically about the story behind the attempted assassination and coup upon which Valkyrie is based. As Claus von Stauffenberg did not knowingly keep a journal, or at least one that has been made public or translated into English, secondary sources written by credible authors are the most reliable form of information on this subject matter. It turns out that although dialogue and specific situations were made up for the film, Singer got most of the facts right when presenting the plotting and execution of the attempted assassination of Hitler. Descriptions of the attempted coup by Baigent and Leigh; Craig; Hoffman; Housden; Jones; Thomas; and Vogel and Farrel all substantiate at least the skeleton of the Singer account of historical events.

Research therefore shows that Operation Valkyrie did proceed as Singer presents it in his film. Even the dates presented in the film correspond with the actual chronology of events. Moreover, the character of Claus von Stauffenberg might be poorly rendered by Cruise but biographical material shows that at least Singer and the screenwriters captured the man's motives and general character. Von Stauffenberg did have an eye patch and was emotionally committed to saving Germany from the tyranny of the Nazis. His wife is also portrayed as she is in biographical accounts of the family (Hoffman). Finally, the ancillary characters in the film including Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh); General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy); General Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson); Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp); Major Otto Ernst Remer (Thomas Kretschmann) and a slew of others actually did exist and in the very capacity they were given in the film version. For example, some of these were on the side of von Stauffenberg (wuch as Henning von Tresckow) and others on the side of Hitler (Otto Ernse Remer).

III. Evaluation of Sources according to ORIGIN, PURPOSE, VALUE, and LIMITATION (OPVL)

Although a slew of sources was collected and consulted, two stand out most for their purpose and value in conducting an investigation on the historical accuracy of the film Valkyrie. Hoffman's Stauffenberg: A Family History is a scholarly biography of the Colonel. Published by the McGill-Queens University Press, the book's credibility is unquestioned. The author presents the material with thorough documentation of primary sources. The book includes valuable photographic material, too. The photos of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg are not altogether different from what Cruise looks like, although Cruise is undoubtedly a whole head shorter than the man he plays. The purpose of Hoffman's book is to use primary source material to compose a complete picture of the man behind Operation Valkyrie. Hoffman exposes the motives for Hoffman's risky endeavor, which ultimately resulted in his death and threatened the lives of his entire family too. Stauffenberg believed two central things that caused him to act as courageously as he did: one, that Nazi anti-Semitic ideology was immoral; and two, that Germany was destroying itself by continuing to condone the Nazi political campaign. For Stauffenberg, killing Hitler was indeed a national as well as an ethical duty, and this is exactly how Singer portrays his protagonist in Valkyrie. Because of its focusing almost exclusively on the life of Stauffenberg, Hoffman's book has the limitation of not thoroughly addressing contextual material. However, the value of the source cannot be underestimated. It is scholarly, credible, and necessary in evaluating the way Singer portrays his main character.

A second source central to this research is Housden's Resistance and Conformity in the Third Reich. Like Hoffman, Housden draws from primary source material and includes valuable photographic evidence that enhances the text. Housden includes direct quotes from Stauffenberg, which are crucial when comparing the film dialogue to the actual voice of the Colonel. The purpose of Housden's book is to expose the psychological forces at play. Therefore, Resistance and Conformity in the Third Reich is valuable from the perspective of gaining insight in the character of Stauffenberg and his cohorts, as well as their enemies. Unfortunately, the source is constrained by its narrow focus.

IV. Analysis

Valkyrie begins with von Stauffenberg in North Africa, where he was indeed stationed at the time. Moreover, the film opens with a close encounter with Hitler. This event actually did seem to take place, offering Colonel von Stauffenberg the opportunity to formulate a cohesive plan for a coup. As Vogel & Farrel point out, Stauffenberg was "now close enough to the center of power to make available some armored training battalions for a coup d'etat, the planning of which he could now directly assist," (168). Research also substantiates the film's central claim that von Stauffenberg felt Hitler was bad for Germany in general and not just for the Jews and all the other targets of Nazi murder campaigns. Thomas notes, "Stauffenberg became very concerned," and "believed that Germany could not win the war…so he became convinced that Hitler was leading his country to defeat," (31). The main quip of the film, "We have to kill Hitler," did seem to be something that Stauffenberg would have said. "In 1942 Stauffenberg decided that Hitler had to die," (Thomas 31).

Stauffenberg was a "highly decorated" German war hero in real life as he is in the film (Craig 136). More than any other element of Valkyrie, the character of von Stauffenberg seems the most historically accurate. Housden offers some quotes directly from Stauffenberg, which can be compared with dialogue in the film. For instance, Stauffenberg said, "I could never look the wives and children of the fallen in the eye if I did not do something to stop this senseless slaughter," (cited on 106). Colonel von Stauffenberg also said that it was "the entire German people" whose lives were at stake, and noted that "who has the courage to do something must do so in the knowledge that he will go down in German history as a traitor. If he does not do it, however, he will be a traitor to his conscience," (cited by Housden 106). In the film, Cruise playing Stauffenberg says something remarkably similar: "I know now there is only one way to serve Germany, and doing so I'll be a traitor - I accept that." Another similar line from the film has Stauffenberg say, "I am involved in high treason with all means available to me." Thus, the actual quotes from Stauffenberg seem like made-up Hollywood dialogue but they are not. They are in fact far more impactful than any of the seemingly overwrought lines delivered by Cruise in Valkyrie. Some of the film's lines directly parallel Stauffenberg's own voice as with the line, "I'm a soldier, but in serving my country, I have betrayed my conscience." One line at least is a direct quote: Stauffenberg's last lines, 'Long live our sacred Germany!' (Jones).

The co-conspirators are portrayed in the film as being of the same social standing as von Stauffenberg, based on… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Historical Accuracy of the Film Valkyrie Starring Tom Cruise.  (2011, November 25).  Retrieved December 14, 2018, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/historical-accuracy-film-valkyrie-starring/9513482

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