Film Fridays 2/5: The Monuments Men
The next installment in our Film Fridays series comes from Mike Shore…, who is actually getting married tomorrow! Hooray! Oh, and just a reminder, the post with the most likes/comments on Facebook, shares on Twitter, and clicks in general wins its writer a little prize.
Is there anything in this world that is truly worth dying for?
This is a rather familiar question: one that has been asked at many times and in many ways, eliciting several different responses. And it is the central question behind The Monuments Men, George Clooney’s war film released earlier this year.
Set in 1943 during World War II, the film deals with American Frank Stokes (played by Clooney himself) as the head of a crack team of museum directors, curators and art historians. The men are tasked with finding art stolen by the Nazis from public galleries as well as private collectors, in order to return it to the rightful owners. The pervading theme throughout the film, as I have already touched upon, has to do with the danger these men (who are not all experienced soldiers) put themselves in by travelling to war-torn Europe and attempting the rescue of thousands of endangered works of art.
I should take this opportunity to say that, although I didn’t hate the film, it did leave me feeling a little unsatisfied at the end. One of the key moments that contributed to this was the rousing speech Stokes gives to his men on the eve of their departure on their various respective missions. Stokes over-accentuates the tenacity of humanity: in war, he says, human beings will always recover and thrive even if an entire generation is wiped out. If however, their history and achievements go with them, it would be “like they never existed”. This supposedly heartwarming speech left me cold as it served only to devalue the currency that is human life – putting it at best on a par with the Ghent Altarpiece.
I know that, at the heart of the matter, The Monuments Men sought to affirm the bravery of men who knew how to appreciate good art and architecture, along with its cultural legacy. I also know that many of these fictional characters were men who would never have got to play their part in the war had it not been for this unusual assignment. Why then was I so irked by this film? Well, I happen to believe there is something very special about human life – something unique, irreplaceable, even more so than a classic piece of art. My inspiration for this concept stems from the beginning of the Bible, with God’s creation culminating with mankind, which He describes as being “very good”: the apex of all that He made. Indeed, we see in Genesis that God gives mankind stewardship over all other creatures and plants, instructs them to “rule” over the earth and provides a home for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We are even told that mankind was created in the image of God Himself. It certainly seems to me that, contrary to popular opinion in this day and age, the Bible has in fact a very high view of human life.
**SPOILER ALERT** (If you haven’t seen the film, you may not want to read this last paragraph, although Mr Shore has kept his spoilers quite vague.)
We are not to squander this life for the sake of anything lesser, be it pets or other animals, career and work, or indeed art. It saddens me that although Stokes initially agrees with this view, he ultimately changes his mind on the death of two of his men. Such tragic circumstances, I would have hoped, would open his eyes to the fact that human life is a sacred thing indeed. Then again, Stokes was the art aficionado, not I. Perhaps, had the task involved saving priceless autograph scores of works by famous musical composers, I might be less easily tempted down from my high horse. We all have our idols after all, though to return to my initial question: perhaps it is best not to discuss what is worth laying our lives on the line for, but rather recognising the true value of our lives themselves.