This afternoon my girl and I decided to have an afternoon date. We braved the Southern California rain storm, to drive a few miles to Edward’s Cinema in Mira Mesa. After looking through the selection of movies we decided to give “The Monuments Men” a try. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good World War II movie and as we waited outside the theater for the usher to finish their duties, I noticed that there were several men over sixty waiting as well with their wives. Eventually we were allowed into the theater and, as always, I went through my routine of selecting the two seats in the center of the theater; the sweet spot. It’s a simple method. I simply count the rows up to find the center row, and then count the seats of that row to find the center seats. Best seats in the house, I believe.
Now, I don’t want to tell you what happens in this movie, because frankly, that’s not even what the story is about. I’m not going to list any spoilers, or go into any real detail about the acting abilities of George Clooney, Cate Blanchett or even Bill Murray, because those, too, do not have any bearing whatsoever on this movie and what it is truly about. I imagine, you have perhaps, seen the trailers for it and have gathered by now the story. First, I’d like to point out that it is based on the book, The Monuments Men, by Robert M. Edsel. I have not read the book, but I certainly plan to having watched the film. The story is of an army platoon commissioned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to prevent the destruction and recover works of art from the Nazis.
What I do want to tell you about this movie, is that for the first time, in a long time, I cried. The scene that tugged at my heart strings was an almost comedic one between Richard Campbell, played by Bill Murray, and Preston Savitz, played by Bob Balaban. The two men had taken refuge in an Army camp during Christmas and had received packages from back home. They sat in their tents rifling through them with eager eyes and greedy fingers. Campbell’s box contained an LP of a recording from his family. Disheartened that he would have to hunt down a phonograph to play it on, Campbell retreated to the Officer’s showers. As he walks through the camp, you can see him looking inside tents, searching for one. As he does, the camp loudspeakers are playing Christmas music for the soldiers to enjoy. In the midst of his shower, the music cuts off to the sound of Campbell’s wife and grandchildren wishing him a Merry Christmas. The recording finishes with his wife singing “Have yourself a Merry little Christmas”. Interesting trivia, the song was originally sung by Judy Garland in the musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” which opened November 28th, 1944. The scene in the movie is almost a month later, meaning this would be the first time that Campbell has ever heard this song.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, yes very touching moment, would’ve brought a tear or two to my eyes as well. The thing is, it wasn’t the thought of Campbell missing his grandchildren and wife at Christmas that got to me. It was the moment when the camera switches to inside the tent and reveals Savitz holding the loudspeaker microphone close to a phonograph that is playing the record. The fact that despite all of the horror that is going on around them, this man took the time to search out the player, convince the person running the loudspeaker to let him use it and play Campbell’s LP. I’ve spent some time in the military, close to a good nineteen years. There are times when I’ve been away from home, heartbroken and lonesome, and in those times it has always been the men and women that I served with who have brought a bit of brightness to my day.
So, when I say that “The Monuments Men” isn’t about this actor or actress’ ability, or a sound plot, or even amazing camera work, maybe you’ll understand what I think it is really about. It’s about the men and women who serve. Its about despite horrible, terrifying, hellish actions all around, that humanity wins through. The entire story is built upon the premise of saving beautiful, historical, wondrous pieces of art from destruction. About recovering those things that truly remind us of our humanity. At the very end FDR asks Frank Stokes, played by George Clooney, if he thinks saving those paintings, sculptures and art was worth losing men, because he did lose men in his endeavor. Stokes replied, after a pause, that it was. That no matter what, in the end it is what those men and women are fighting for. Not for some flag, or country, or language, it’s to stand up against oppression, violence and destruction and say we are human.
If you get a chance, and you have $9 that you want to toss at your local movie theater, go see “The Monuments Men”. When you go in and slip down into those comfortable seats, think a little bit past the plot of the movie. Think about what it was like for those men and women, who laid down their lives to save not just countries, but culture. Think about the men and women who serve today, and remember there is a massive, Grand Canyon-sized gulf between the service member and the service. Enjoy the movie, because I know I did!