Film: Valkyrie

We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler's Germany.
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, in part due to the fact that Hitler remained in power (and alive) until the Allied forces came calling at Berlin's edge. Operation Valkyrie was actually the last of over 15 attempts (and the closest to being successful) on Hitler's life by different 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 nothing about the Nazis, World War 2, or the evils of totalitarianism is as black and white as first assumed.

"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.
  • 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." — say it all.
  • 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.
    • 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 Ju52. However, his personal plane at the time was a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 (none of which survived the war).
  • 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 not completely in vain, in showing the world there were some German senior officers and politicians willing to risk everything to stop Hitler.
  • Bald of Awesome: Colonel Quirnheim.
  • 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 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, expecting him to immediately seize power in the event of Hitler's death and effectively replacing "a madman with a lunatic".
  • Complexity Addiction: The apparent reason behind the plot's failure. In Real Life, the military opposition 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 Russian 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, 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 put 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.
  • Dirty Coward: Friedrich Fromm.
  • Doomed by Canon: It's hardly a spoiler to say Hitler survives the attempted coup.
  • Downer Ending
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 he was sentencing two women to death — 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.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Stauffenberg himself had been an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler in the early years, before things got worse.
  • 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 resemblence to himself. That was about where the physical similarity stoppednote , 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 primarily monarchist and extremely conservative. Tolerant democrats who believed in equality 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 only disagreed with 40% of Hitler's ideals.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Moe Greene Special: The reason for Stauffenberg's Eye Patch Of Power.
  • Nazi Germany
  • Nazi Nobleman: Subverted. The film's protagonist is an aristocrat, as well as several of the other plotters.
  • Nazis with Gnarly Weapons: The film's main protagonists, minus the "Nazi" bit.
  • 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:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
    • 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.
  • La Résistance: The main protagonists are part of this.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Viewers Are Morons: According to the DVD commentary, many of the intricate workings of the German military machine and socio-political circumstances pertaining to and influencing the plot were greatly cut down and reduced to layman's terms through several drafts of the script.
  • 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.
  • Who Is This Guy Again?: von Quirnheim's name is only stated at the end of the movie.
  • World War II
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: Inverted. The plot gets far, much further than it did in real life. Of course, given Stauffenberg and the other plotters' Historical Hero Upgrade, the short-lived Real Life July 20 plot could count as a subversion.