A brief comment on a missed opportunity
Note: There are some spoilers below, so please do bear that in mind.
I saw Bryan Singer's Valkyrie a few days ago. It wasn't terrible, despite the misgivings I had about putting the story of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg on film. People, of course, need to remember that, in the darkest moments of Germany's night, there were men and women willing to try to do the right thing. I think Singer oversimplified the German Resistance, but there are limitations to a holiday blockbuster that are best solved in a multi-part documentary. That would, of course, defeat the purpose of the holiday blockbuster. I also had a problem with the idea that the 20 July 1944 plot could be turned into a thriller, since the result is easily determined.
That aside, I felt that one scene could have been utilized to make a powerful point. When Stauffenberg (as played with admirable two-dimensionality by Tom Cruise) presents the revised Walküre plan to Hitler at the Berghof on the Obersalzburg, Hitler asks whether Stauffenberg knows his Wagner. He rambles on about the Valkyries and their role in selecting heroes to live or die and their role in carrying them to Valhalla. All well and good (I suppose), but then the film has Hitler make the dramatically obvious comment that in order to understand National Socialism, one must understand Wagner.
This topic has been much-debated and will continue to be debated by scholars and critics, but not here. What I will say, however, is that it would have been powerful for one of the characters to quote (or, better still, the music play) Wotan's act 2 monologue, particularly,
Zum Ekel find' ich
ewig nur mich
in allem, was ich erwirke!
Das andre, das ich ersehne,
das andre erseh' ich nie:
denn selbst muss der Freie sich schaffen:
Knechte erknet' ich mir nur!
That would have, properly understood, had a lot of dramatic impact: the free man must create himself. Compare that with Wotan, who finds only himself in all his plans. Archetypal as the Wagnerian drama is -- and I hazard to say that Wagner the dramatist produced one of his greatest scenes with this monologue; indeed, the best analogue is Aeschylus' hoi Persai -- one can draw all manner of ambiguity and pathos from this scene and its music.
It is my view, then, that Mr. Singer missed a grand opportunity to make a dramatically powerful point subtly (which his use of the Walkürenritt during the bombing raid was assuredly not) with Wagner, rather than repeating a contentious old saw about Wagner. That was, others have noted, the problem with the movie: it was neither good nor bad, great nor terrible. It was competent and did everything one would expect it to do. It tried to the whole ambiguity thing, but it's hard to introduce too much moral ambiguity or sympathy without causing problems with both dramatic sufficiency or historical accuracy. To say nothing of moral appropriateness.
That was a minor "mistake," then, but it was characteristic.