The Major Question in “Monuments Men”

Usually I won’t go see a movie where the preview didn’t draw me in. Big surprise, right? Well last night I made an exception and went and saw “Monuments Men”. I saw the trailer a couple different times and yawned. In the past when I have gone against my better judgment and saw a movie that didn’t hook me in the previews I ended up hating it. However, “Monuments Men” proved my gut instinct wrong and I actually enjoyed the film very much.

My ticket from "Monuments Men" on Monday night.

My ticket from “Monuments Men” on Monday night.

This post is not a review though. Although I concede that I would give the film two thumbs up I just want to briefly discuss the burning question that opens the film, presents itself throughout, and then is asked point blank again at the end of the movie. But before I reveal that question let me give a very brief summary.

It is World War II and an art scholar played by George Clooney is lobbying to put in place a plan to save art stolen by the Nazis. Clooney’s character gets to plead his case to FDR who reluctantly agrees to authorize a mission to recover the stolen work. Clooney organizes a rag-tag army unit of art scholars and curators to go to Europe to recover the art. The unit embarks on numerous adventures, experiences trials and tribulations, and loses two men. However, by the end of the war they are successful in finding a large amount of paintings, sculptures, stained glass, bells, books, etc. At the end of the movie Clooney summarizes the mission to President Truman.

The underlying question throughout the whole movie is whether it is worth it to devote resources and risk the safety of others in the name of saving art when there is a world war going on. Roosevelt posed the question at the start of the movie, it is brought up time and time again while the unit is in Europe, and even after the success of the mission Truman still has his doubts and must ask it. Although the movie very much implies that it is a noble and true initiative, the viewer still has the opportunity to make his own decision.

I hate to say it but I am still torn. It grips at your heart when you see the Nazis setting ablaze to Picassos but what is the value of one of those paintings when you are in a war that has killed 60 million people? The movie depicts the art unit going through great lengths to recover certain pieces as well as the process it took to return them once they hauled them out of the mines and castles. It was all very risky. The movie paints one of the men who died as feeling very honored for his opportunity to participate in the mission. Adding to it, the father of the fallen is portrayed as supporting his son. But it is Hollywood. Would a parent actually accept the reality that their son died trying to save an altar piece or a painting?

Then again the U.S. did have the resources and luxury to commission such a mission. The war was under control. Also, the group that made up the Monuments Men all willingly took part. They risked their lives because they thought it was the right thing to do. How can I chastise someone for making a decision that they believed in?

I think I can identify which way I lean by asking this question: If I was in Roosevelt’s chair when Cloonney’s character was making his case to send a unit over to Europe would I give the go-ahead or not? I am thinking with the immense stress of the war and millions already dead I wouldn’t have the guts to pull the trigger and authorize something like that.

Even though you will have a dilemma to wrestle with I recommend you see “Monuments Men”. Critical thinking is good and superb acting isn’t bad either. Don’t Blink.

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