Film / Valkyrie

"It only matters that we act, now, before we lose the war. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler's Germany...and we have to show the world that not all of us were like him."
Henning von Tresckow

Valkyrie is a 2008 historical drama film about the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler by a dedicated cabal of German military officers, as well as some non-military personnel. It stars Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson.

Part of what got interest in this film going is that popular consciousness is that there was no resistance within Germany to the Nazi party after the mass-arrest and exodus of the country's leftists in 1933, in part due to the fact that Hitler remained in power (and alive) until the Soviets took Berlin. Operation Valkyrie was actually the last of over 15 attempts (and one of the closest to being successful) on Hitler's life by various fringe factions within Germany before the end of the war. Even though the outcome of this assassination attempt is rather obvious, it serves as a reminder that the politics of Nazi Germany was far more fractious than it appears at first sight/from Middle- and High-School textbooks.

"Valkyrie" itself comes from the name of the prepared plan dictating the delegation of power that would transpire should Hitler die. The members of the plot had manipulated the Valkyrie protocol so that when Hitler died they would be able to unilaterally seize power with minimal infighting.

Not to be confused with the mythological characters from which this movie takes its name.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The movie opens with the Afrika Korps being attacked by the British in Tunisia.
  • A Father to His Men: In the opening, Stauffenberg's only concern is that his men get out of Africa alive. When the British attack, he helps a subordinate into a Kübelwagen before trying to get away.
  • Affably Evil: Adolf Hitler. When he meets Stauffenberg for the first time, he praises him for his service and his sacrifices for Germany and then tells his fellow national socialists that they could learn a lot of things from him.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Stauffenberg and his companions subvert this. They're just Wehrmacht officers and as a matter of fact, although some of them had been involved in war crimes, most of them were also known for their participation in the German resistance against the Nazi regime and for saving Jews and other minorities from concentration camps and/or mass executions. Henning von Trescow's words — "We have to show the world that not all of us are like him." — says it all.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Invoked in reference to Fromm, though in this case, it's more "Ambition makes you pliable". Given that Fromm is the only person who can officially initiate Valkyrie, Beck asks if he can be brought to their side. Tresckow and Olbricht note that Fromm is a "careerist pig" and has never hidden his displeasure at the fact he's gone as far as he can under the Nazis. Beck tells them to offer him a key position in the new regime in exchange for his support.
  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • Smolensk in March is usually a quagmire of melting snow, ice, and mud.
    • The Berghof was built onto the side of a hill and not the direct top. There was a smaller house at the summit as part of the Berghof complex, but Hitler rarely used it.
    • The inaccurate composition of the East Prussian forests surrounding the Wolf's Lair.
  • Artistic License – History: Numerous.
    • Henning von Tresckow was still a colonel at the time of the failed plan to blow up Hitler's airplane.
    • In the morning whilst shaving, Stauffenberg deliberately cuts himself with the blade; it's an excuse to "change his clothes" in the base (in reality a chance to arm the explosives), because the film couldn't portray him sweating.
    • One of the most glaring violations is during the lead-up to the assassination attempt: Major Freyend diverts Stauffenberg from the bunker with the excuse that it's too hot — true to life, it was indeed a sweltering mid-July day, but nobody was going into the bunker since it was undergoing structural reinforcement carried out by slave workers. For the sake of differentiation, Stauffenberg had performed a dry run in there on the 15th.
    • Berlin also seems to look remarkably pristine, despite the fact that it had been subjected to countless Allied air raids before the plot was even put into motion.
    • The plot did not come as close to success as the movie suggests. It was probably doomed to failure after Hitler survived the bomb. Certainly the failure to arrest any of the key Nazis in Berlin or seize communications robbed the plotters of any chance of success.
    • At the beginning of the film, Hitler flies to the Eastern Front in a Junkers Ju 52. However, his personal plane at the time was a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 (none of which survived the war).
    • Speaking of the Ju 52, Staffenberg actually flew back to Berlin in a Heinkel He 111.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In the plot of this film, the bad guys do win. Hitler survives, the German resistance is destroyed, and the war continues. In the longer run the Nazis lost of course, leaving the conspirators' deaths to not completely be in vain, in showing the world there were some junior military officers (the conspiracy was also known as the 'Colonels Plot', since none of them had the rank of General and each commanded 1,000 men or fewer) and low-level politicians willing to risk everything to stop Hitler.
  • Bald of Awesome: Colonel Quirnheim.
  • Batman Gambit: The conspirators took a big risk assuming The Fuehrer wouldn't take a close look at the Valkyrie Order revision before signing it. Typically for him, and fortunately for them, he doesn't.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: How Stauffenberg bluffs his way past a checkpoint at the Wolf's Lair (he pretends to call Field Marshal Keitel).
  • Big Bad: Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party and the wartime German government.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: When Stauffenberg arrives to get Hitler's signature for the Valkyrie revision, the upper echelon of The Third Reich are all present: Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Keitel and Speer. All of them regard him suspiciously. Definitely adds to the tension of the scene.
  • Big Brother is Employing You: Just about all the characters are part of the Nazi government, and the workings of said government are very, very plot important.
  • Big Good: Ludwig Beck, the leader of the German resistance. Even when Stauffenberg assumes control of field operations, he still acknowledges Beck as his superior and the new head of state of liberated Germany.
  • Co-Dragons: Hitler has a whole collection of these. The ones we see in the film are Himmler, Goebbels, Goering, Keitel, and Speer. Himmler is regarded as the biggest threat out of all of them by the Valkyrie conspirators, who expect him to immediately seize power in the event of Hitler's death, effectively replacing "a madman with a lunatic".
  • Complexity Addiction: The apparent reason behind the plot's failure. In Real Life, 'the military opposition' (such as it was) had planned ever since the inception of the Valkyrie plot, in chronological order: shoot the Führer at Smolensk (stopped by Field Marshal von Kluge), detonate a bomb hidden in a cognac bottle in his private plane (malfunctioned), detonate a bomb at the display of Red Army flags at the Berlin Armory (the Führer rushed through and the fuse had no time to engage), Axel von dem Bussche's attempt to detonate a bomb hidden in his uniform and die together with Hitler (the uniform display got cancelled) and so on.

    However, Luftwaffe General Karl Koller testified (in front of an American judge after the war) that Stauffenberg and himself often were called to the Führer's study to discuss military issues, alone and carrying their service pistols, and that simply drawing the pistol and shooting Hitler in the face would have been much quicker and simpler, even if it assumed the perpetrator being shot himself by the guardsmen afterwards.
  • Composite Character: Some minor figures were combined in Ian McNeice's character, who is identified as "Pompous General" in the credits.
  • Cyanide Pill: The Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels puts what is obviously a suicide pill in his mouth before being confronted by the German army coming to arrest him, just in case he wasn't able to get out of that situation.
  • Death Glare: Stauffenberg shoots his driver a very venomous one as a warning when he (correctly) suspects this fellow saw the other bomb being covertly discarded during the drive. The intimidation doesn't succeed.
  • Dirty Coward: Friedrich Fromm. He makes it plain from the off he won't support them while Hitler is alive, quickly abandons and tries to arrest them when it becomes apparent Hitler is still alive and then, in an ultimately futile bid to save his own skin, has the conspirators hastily court-martialled and shot, contravening direct orders from Hitler that they be taken alive.
    • Stauffenberg considers Goerdeler this because of his reluctance to kill Hitler in favour of a political solution to remove the Fuhrer.
    Stauffenberg: [to Goerdeler] You don't have the courage to kill Hitler, so you are making the task impossible!
    • While Stauffenberg tries to recruit Fellgiebel into the conspiracy, he angrily accuses the conspirators of being this in a bid to save their own skins now the war is clearly a lost cause. His own remarks about the pointlessness of trying it could also paint him in this trope.
    Erich Fellgiebel: [to Stauffenber] You're nothing but rats jumping from a sinking ship! What makes you think you'll be any different?! What makes you think you're stronger than the people?! The Reich?! The very momentum of history!
  • Didn't Think This Through: Stauffenberg implies this to Treskcow, pointing out that even if they succeed in removing Hitler, they haven't taken dealing with the more fanatical elements of the Nazi regime that will remain into account.
    Von Stauffenberg: They're confusing respect with popularity. The army swore an oath, an oath that won't just die with Hitler. How are you going to deal with Goebbels, Himmler, the SS?! They will wipe you out!
  • Disaster Dominoes: The plot fails due to the briefing being held in the conference hut rather than the bunker, Stauffenberg being interrupted before he can arm the second bomb, and Colonel Brandt moving the briefcase to the other side of a table leg between him and Hitler.
  • Doomed by Canon: It's hardly a spoiler to say Hitler survives the attempted coup.
  • Downer Ending: Stauffenberg and all the conspirators are rounded up and executed. However, it ends up being a Bittersweet Ending in the long run, as the war in Europe is on its last legs and the Nazis will be defeated while Stauffenberg will be immortalized as a national hero.
  • Dramatic Irony: During Stauffenberg's visit to Hitler's Berghof residence in Bavaria, Hitler praises Stauffenberg for his sacrifices as a soldier and wishes that more of his men were like him. If only there were! At this time, Stauffenberg is planning an assassination of Hitler and a coup d'etat against his regime for its excesses.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Ludwig Beck. In Real Life, he shot himself in the head twice and still didn't die. The guard had to finish him off.
    • Henning von Tresckow, who holds a grenade underneath his chin. Truth in Television because he really did do this (after firing pistols into the air to give the appearance of being shot at by partisans) in order to make it look like he had been killed in the war, to save his family the shame of watching his execution.
    • Joseph Goebbels was prepared with a cyanide capsule... just in case Major Remer decided to proceed with the coup and arrest him anyway.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: The hero, Claus von Stauffenberg. Standing tall, unrepentant, unbowed, unafraid... he declares "Long Live Our Sacred Germany!" with his final breath. Died like an absolute champ... and this is exactly how he really died.
  • Eureka Moment: Guess what Stauffenberg is listening to when he gets the idea for Operation Valkyrie?
  • Even Evil Has Standards: What drives the entire plot. The German officer corps may be full of racists and militarists in the vein of Staufffenberg and Rundstedt, but they're not genocidally racist like Manstein and Guderian.
  • Evil Is Petty: Fromm makes it plain he doesn't mind looking the other way so long as Keitel, who has spent a good part of the film's first half chewing him out and humiliating him, gets what's coming to him.
    Fromm: I don't know what you're brewing up and I don't want to know. But when the music stops, I'd be obliged if Keitel found himself without a chair.
  • Eye Patch Of Power: Truth in Television. Cruise actually spent months learning to work with the eyepatch, and stated that while he found it difficult to work with, he acknowledged the real Von Stauffenberg would have found it difficult as well.
  • Famous Last Words: "Es lebe unser heiliges Deutschland!". Translates to "Long live our sacred Germany", but the film truncated it a bit, removing the "our" (to be fair, there is some dispute about the actual form of Stauffenberg's last words; his biographer, Joseph Hoffmann, makes a good case for "Es lebe das geheime Deutschland!" ("Long live the secret Germany!")
  • Fat Bastard: Hermann Göring, whose small appearance consists of lounging around a lunch table like a fat pig. Which actually sums up his role in World War II quite nicely.
  • Final Speech: "You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months' time the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book, and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets." Nothing of the sort happened to Judge Freisler, whom the comment was directed at. In fact, he died during the British bombing of Berlin while conducting the trial of Fabian von Schlabrendorff — a bomb fell through the open roof in the middle of the trial and blew him up. A worker in the hospital when the body was brought in commented "It was God's verdict."
  • Foregone Conclusion: Even those unfamiliar with the assassination plot itself should know this.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: One is performing at a nightclub where Stauffenberg meets other conspirators.
  • Hanging Judge: Judge Roland Freisler.
  • Headbutting Heroes: Stauffenberg and Goerdeler do not get along. They were also like this in real life, Goerdeler distrusting Stauffenberg due to his socialist connections, and Stauffenberg considering Goerderler to be an out-of-touch reactionary.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Stauffenberg himself had been an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler in the early years, before things got worse.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Stauffenberg undergoes this as his office loses more and more contact, with increased indications that Hitler survived.
  • The Hero Dies: Stauffenberg dies for his cause in the end without reaching any of his objectives.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Interestingly enough, the reason Tom Cruise got interested in the project is because a picture of Stauffenberg bore an uncanny resemblance to himself. That was about where the physical similarity stopped,note  but in general Stauffenberg was considered a handsome man.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The plotters are portrayed as this in the film. Apparently the German officer corps actually cared about Jewish people, was disgusted by their slaughter, and masterminded a plot to assassinate Hitler that would include the closing of concentration camps. In reality the German officer corps, especially the aristocratic elements that made up a fair chunk of it and the plotters, were strongly authoritarian and murderously anti-leftist and pro-German. Covert Republicans who believed in equality and democracy they were not. In many cases, the plotters only turned on Hitler because he was losing the war, and had every intention of fighting on against the Soviet Union. It is however true that it would have been difficult for the audience to get behind protagonists who disagreed with less than 20% of Nazi ideology.
    • Stauffenberg viewed Poland as "an unbelievable rabble" best under the whip, and as a country filled with "a lot of Jews and a lot of cross-breeds". However, he was disgusted when he later learned that Jews were being rounded up and shot in masses, which was reportedly a factor in him turning against Hitler.
    • That said, they weren't ALL vehement racists and autocrats. Tresckow in particular had genuine moral objections to Hitler and believed the plot had to go forward even if it was doomed to fail just to show that there was a resistance (not surprisingly, the movie includes this).
    • Curiously, one of Stauffenberg's colleagues said that he intended to declare Germany a worker's state, make a deal with Stalin, and fight on against the Western allies, with or without the Red Army. Stauffenberg, according to this source, thought that the Americans and British would be easier to beat. Exactly the opposite of the Führer's views, who had tried ever since 1943 to find a foothold for peace talks with the Western Allies, but never conceived anything else than complete victory and annihilation for the Soviet Untermenschen.
    • There is a lot of controversy about the ideological principles of the plotters. We do know that they intended to stop the Final Solution, that they wanted to continue the fight against the Soviet Union, and that they intended to establish at least a token/weak democracy in the vein of Imperial Germany. We don't know much else, including why they and most of their families were executed, as there were very few living witnesses to convey their motives.
  • Hope Spot: When Operation Valkyrie is initiated by Olbricht. The plan was to assassinate Hitler and then declare a state of emergency-the Wehrmacht would arrest the entire SS, Gestapo, and Nazi Party leadership. A military junta would take control, officially to safeguard Hitler's legacy but in reality to end the war against the British and Americans. The Hope Spot is where this succeeds, and the German army seizes control; simultaneously a CMOA. It lasts until Hitler reveals himself to be alive.
  • Kangaroo Court: Based on the real life People's Court, ruled by Roland Freisler.
  • Karma Houdini: While he may not have done anything overtly villainous, the fact that Major Remer was not arrested and executed is rather surprising. Granted, he was used as an unwitting dupe, but the fallout that followed was so extreme that anyone with a passing connection to the plot was brutally executed (even the great Magnificent Bastard, Erwin Rommel, was forced to kill himself, not because he was involved in the plot in any way, but just because he probably knew about it and didn't tell anybody). Otto Remer survived the war, went on to found a Nazi successor party that engaged in Holocaust denial (before West Germany banned it), aided Arab states fighting Israel, and died in 1997.
    • Friedrich Fromm was not as lucky.
    • It's probably because Remer undid the entire plot. Assuming he hadn't believed Goebbels and arrested him rather than permitting him to put him on the phone with Hitler, it might have gone very differently...
  • Kill 'em All
  • La Résistance: Unusually for this trope, this movie focuses on the German resistance during World War II rather than that of the occupied countries.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Fromm's odious attempt to cover up his duplicity did not fool the Gestapo. He was executed the next year.
  • Leave No Witnesses: Fromm's reason to summarily execute everyone involved. Ultimately, it did not save him.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: When Olbricht and Stauffenberg attempt to recruit Fromm a little too openly, he reminds them they are bound by oath to serve the Fuhrer. He then disconnects the (presumably bugged) phone and tells the pair he will overlook what they just said on the understanding they never do so in his presence again.
  • Master Race: To be expected in a film regarding the Nazis. The best example is in the leadup to the actual bomb attempt, when Stauffenberg overhears Keitel tell a junior officer the strategy meeting has been moved forward by an hour because Mussolini is arriving later that day and Hitler wants to have lunch with him. When Stauffenberg asks if Mussolini will be joining them for the briefing, Keitel replies that he wishes so, if only so some officer might do them all a favour and "take the opportunity to shoot that dago bastard!"
  • Moe Greene Special: The reason for Stauffenberg's Eye Patch Of Power.
  • Nazi Nobleman: Subverted. Unsurprisingly given the attention to accuracy, the film's protagonist and several of the other plotters are aristocrats.
  • No-One Could Survive That: Throughout the short-lived coup, Stauffenberg insists this despite the fact that, as in Real Life, Hitler is Not Quite Dead.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: All of the conspirators with the exception of Merz (played by German Christian Berkel) sound British or American. David Bamber (British) as Hitler does bother. This was done because the filmmakers believed the audience would find it distracting if Hitler spoke in anything other than a German accent.
  • Oh Crap!:
    • Von Tresckow, when Colonel Brandt suggests they take a drink from the Cointreau bottle (which is false and contains the bomb). Especially after Brandt gave a spiel with vague references to traitors. Tresckow smoothly talks his way out of it.
    • Beck, Goerdeler and Witzleben exchange a look that screams this when Olbricht points out any changes they make to Valkyrie to suit their needs will require Hitler's approval.
    • Fromm, when he realises Olbricht and Stauffenberg are there to recruit him for the resistance, in his office in the middle of the day, surrounded by countless soldiers and other officers loyal to the Nazi Party.
    • Major Remer when he realizes who's at the other end of the phone line.
    • Stauffenberg, when he learns, after arming a single pack of Plastic W, that the meeting is taking place in the open conference hut instead of the enclosed bunker.
    • Stauffenberg when he lands in Berlin and finds out the coup has not started.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The central communications officer handling the military orders during the coup. He refuses to take a side and is so bent on remaining neutral that when presented with a Morton's Fork, he sends through both orders. Finally, he blocks communications from Stauffenberg.
  • Poor Communication Kills: General Felgiebel attempts to tell Olbricht that Hitler survived, but only says, "Something terrible has happened-" before getting cut off by static. Olbricht is left unsure of what happened, and decides not to do anything until Stauffenberg can report in person.
  • Precision F-Strike: "The point of replacing Hitler is to negotiate a truce with the Allies. The Allies, I suspect, would be more amenable to a truce if we offered it to them before they get to fucking Berlin!"
  • Punch Clock Villain:
    • Major Remer, who carries out Operation Valkyrie and is manipulated by both sides. In the very end, he arrests Stauffenberg without any enthusiasm at all (in fact the real Remer was an enthusiastic Nazi who went on to found pro-Nazi parties in West Germany and advocate Holocaust denial).
    • Stauffenberg used to be this before joining the German resistance.
  • Record Needle Scratch: In-universe as an impromptu party at the Stauffenberg house is interrupted by an Allied bombing raid, which causes the record needle to jump.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The shootout at the end seems thrown in just for dramatic purposes... but that really did happen.
  • Recycled Trailer Music: The music used in the trailers was the main theme from Saw. "Hello, Zepp."
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: General Fromm ends up executed just like all the other plotters, even though he betrayed them at the last moment. It's pointed out to him that he'll hang just like the rest of them. His treachery only earns him a few extra months of life in the end and a firing squad as opposed to a hangman's noose.
  • Shell-Shock Silence
  • Shown Their Work: When facing the People's Court, von Witzleben is shown gripping his pants with one hand. While not explained in the movie, the arrested conspirators had their belts confiscated, so that they could not take the more honorable way out. It also gave the judges an opportunity to humiliate the accused by making filthy jokes at their expense...
  • Spanner in the Works: The assassination attempt is defeated by the weather: it's too hot so Hitler moves the briefing out of the Führerbunker, where the concrete surrounds would have amplified the explosion's pressure wave, and into a more open-plan outbuilding where the windows and weaker walls absorb some of the energy. Colonel Heinz Brandt also moves the briefcase containing the bomb to the other side of a table leg, creating an additional barrier between the blast and Hitler, but ironically causing his own death.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: The Wagnerian record in Stauffenberg's house, which serves as the inspiration for the operation's title. Semi-justified, as the bombing of Stauffenberg's house would logically push back the needle on the record, bringing it to the start again.
  • Tempting Fate: "Hitler's Germany has seen its last sunrise!" Also doubles as Monologuing and a great line for the trailer.
  • This Cannot Be!: A rare heroic example. Stauffenberg simply refuses to believe that Hitler survived the blast, despite mounting evidence to the contrary... because once he admits that, he knows all is lost and they are all as good as dead.
  • This Is Not a Drill: When the Reserve Army is first mobilized, Major Remer says "This better not be a drill!"
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Tranquil Fury: Hitler's voice when giving instructions to Remer.
  • Translation Convention: After an opening transition, everybody speaks perfect English. The written documents are still in German, and during the coup the reserve army troops issue orders in their native tongue.
  • Un-Person: Fromm refers to Von Stauffenberg as "the colonel whose name I will not mention" when the conspirators are arrested and sentenced.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Remarked upon by the leader of the Berlin section of the German Army. As they started getting conflicting orders, he realized it was a coup and he wasn't sure which side he was on.
  • Valkyries: Discussed. The real-life plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler is disguised as a mobilization order named "Valkyrie" to take over the German government after Hitler's death, which he himself has to sign off on. Stauffenberg presents the plan in person, and Hitler glances cursorily at the pages without a proper reading. He refers to Wagner and speaks of the Valkyries' nature, and signs off on the plan simply because the name pleased him.
  • V-Formation Team Shot: The theatrical poster.
  • The Watson: Carl Goerdeler, whose ignorance of what Operation Valkyrie is and why General Fromm is important allows the others to get some important exposition across.