Ignore the Critics; See Monuments Men!
From the opening close-ups of the Ghent Altarpiece, it is clear that The Monuments Men is a different kind of war movie, involved not with the protection of national identity or the graphic slaughter of the enemy, but instead deeply concerned with the preservation of collective material culture. Adapted from the book of the same name by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter, it recounts the true story of a division of soldiers tasked with saving the great artwork and monuments of Europe as World War II raged around them. The failed art student Hitler dreamed of building the Führermuseum in his home town of Linz, Austria, and he sent his troops to ravage the great museums and private collections of Europe, hiding their plunder as it awaited its eventual display. The Monuments Men raced against time and the fast-working network of art thieves employed by the Third Reich to save the irreplaceable gems of Western culture.
The always-popular genre of art heist film consistently glosses over the true value of art, placing emphasis instead on the financial sums attached to objects by the art market. Discussion of money is conspicuously absent from The Monuments Men; the artwork is worth saving because of its historical and cultural worth, not the sum it might reach on an auction floor. A main theme of the film is the fragility of material culture and our responsibility to protect and preserve it. This is not typical blockbuster material. The film asks the tough questions: is it really worth sacrificing a life to insure the safety of a Michelangelo? The answer is a carefully justified yes. The rhetoric of The Monuments Men might make a person who might not automatically assign such value to art, someone who doesn’t often visit museums or give much thought to this aspect of history think again.
We don’t see a lot of movies made about art and art history. If you would like to see more made, go see The Monuments Men. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it raises issues rarely seen in mainstream cinema.