The Monuments Men
UH American Studies lecturer, cultural critic and freelance arts writer
Where did you see the movie and what did you think?
I saw the movie by myself at Pearlridge West theater. Directed by and starring George Clooney, The Monuments Men is a Hollywood-friendly recounting of the effort to recover the masterpieces of European art that Hitler had stolen from the continent’s museums and cathedrals. Based on real-life actions of hundreds of men and women from 13 countries, the movie focuses on a small group of characters played by Kate Blanchett, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray and others.
The movie reminds us that the heroics of war are not always about combat, and that behind body counts are the ideals of a civilization, which are often expressed through art and architecture. Hitler may have been evil incarnate, but he recognized beauty and power, and knew that strong art could give people a sense of history and direction.
Without giving away the ending, what was one of your favorite scenes?
The necessary confrontation between Clooney’s character and the lead Nazi orchestrating the theft was an interesting scene. Here the audience gets to see the face of the devil and hiss at his hypocrisy of acting “civilized” while being virulently anti-Semitic. Clooney, who we hope will simply punch the Nazi John-Wayne style, basically tells him he can’t wait to be there for the Nazi’s public execution for war crimes … then, cut!
On a scale of one to four stars, what would you rate this film?
What did you think of the cinematography?
Solid. Clooney has the clout and the budget for top-notch production design, costumes, set dressing and seamless visual effects to recreate Normandy Beach and blasted cityscapes.
Was the message/theme clear?
World War II demonstrated humanity’s capacity to put forth its very best in the face of its very worst. The question of preserving cultural heritage is a valid one that is being raised again as the Middle East is wracked with chaos. For those who are interested in a side of the war that is rarely discussed, The Monuments Men is just serious enough to spark some great discussion.
Clooney’s character makes several motivational speeches throughout the film that are really directed at a modern audience that might not see the value of a painting or sculpture when compared to that of a human life. He reminds us that protecting the human capacity to make art, and the history of doing so, is ultimately why they were fighting the war in the first place.
Did it remind you of any other works of film?
For those who want the actual story and not the Hollywoodized version, there is the 2006 documentary, The Rape of Europa.
To whom would you recommend this movie?
Anyone interested in a little-known side of World War II that illuminates the degree of cultural loss that the West was to have suffered if it simply opted for total destruction to win the war.
Did any of the actors stand out?
Kate Blanchett is utterly convincing as Claire Simone, who is based on Rose Val-land, the real employee of the French Jeu de Paume museum who secretly documented all the stolen art the Nazis moved through the institution.
Would you watch this movie again?
No, but it has led me to do some more research into World War II history, particularly Adam Curtis’ documentary, The Living Dead, which explores the ways in which post-war societies control and direct mass memories of war. Interestingly, these processes played out very differently in the Pacific, which saw an entirely different face of the conflict.