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Some Ramblings - Valkyrie
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

Order and structure help create a semblance of safety and security and are meant to thwart confusion and chaos. When faced with any unforeseen circumstance, bring out the rules book, follow the steps laid down in there and normalcy is restored - at least as per the theory. But like joke in the movie ("of course it is is military plan, nothing is supposed to go according to it"), there lies an inherent paradox in the cause of the contingency plans that are meant for situations that are unpredictable. If the behavior/fall out of an event cannot be mapped out before-hand, what good is an emergency plan anyway (which is in fact the basic premise of chaos theory). The more the moving parts in a mechanism, the greater is the chance for chaos when the system breaks down, and the larger the scope of the mechanism, the greater is the magnitude of the anarchy. And what better place to demonstrate the (in)effectiveness of order than in the halls of administration.

An incident from a few weeks ago hits the nail on the head. Following the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani media reported that the office of the President of Pakistan received a call from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs threatening Pakistan of dire consequences if it didn't take immediate action on the extremist elements in its country. Immediately the war machinery of the country was put on high alert, troops were mobilized and the entire nation held its breath on India's next move. That it was all a hoax, stated by some miscreant by placing a crank call, showed the glaring inadequacies in protocols, when confronted with confusion, given the right circumstances. The very measures that were put in place to avoid such dangerous situations didn't come in handy, effectively breaking down the system and bringing to its knees (in this case, pushing the security apparatus in the two countries to the brink of war).

Tom Clancy's fictitious, yet entirely plausible, novel "The sum of all fears" deals with this same scenario in great detail to chilling effect. It is about how the situation can be manipulated to drag the superpowers into battlefields without their very knowledge. The interesting aspect in modern warfare is the replacement of human element with artificial intelligence. Here, systems are already pre-programmed to initiate dire actions (launching missiles from nuclear silos) on their own, when they perceive an escalation of threat from the other side (like how in the Gulf War of 1990, the US Patriot missiles were automatically launched whenever an Iraqi Scud was detected as airborne). In such a highly volatile environment, all that one had to do is trick the systems (not individuals) into believing that the other side is about to take unilateral/unprovoked action, and humankind would just be a few computer processor cycles, a few nano seconds away from total annihilation. And all it takes is one with an agenda, motivation, and enough inside knowledge of the gray areas in the system. "Valkyrie" is about one such mission during the final years of the Second World War meant to assassinate Hitler, take over Germany, and bring it back into the folds of sanity and humanity. And the modus operandi of the plot involved exploiting the cracks in the system by pitting the various lines of order and different chains of command against one another. As history showed, it wasn't meant to be and for all the ingenuity of the plot, order was restored before chaos took over. But during those brief hours in the early part of 1944, humanity took a chance towards stopping the madness of the Nazi regime, and "Valkyrie", above all, is about that valor and courage.

More than 40 years have passed since the Nazi era ended with Hitler taking his life in an underground bunker in 1945, but stories of sacrifice, bravery, tragedy and hope still surface even to this day of people who laid down their lives trying to alter the course of history. And in the movies, the thrillers during the 60s (specially the Alistair Maclean's novels - Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Force 10 from Navarone, and others like Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, The Passage) gradually gave away for more human stories (Sophie's Choice, Life is Beautiful, The Pianist) during the later years. Most of these movies however were from the victim's point of view, depicting how their lives were shattered by the megalomaniacal plans of a mad man. There were not that many that showed the war from the insider's perspective, the inner workings of the Nazi Party, their effectiveness and their ruthless efficiency (though in Schindler's List the protagonist is a member of the Nazi Party, the emphasis of the movie was more on the victimization of the Jews and nobility of Schindler). While much of the success of the British Empire is attributed to the business acumen of the English, the triumph of the Nazis all over Europe was chiefly due to their superior organizational skills. It is never more evident that in the mountains of documents recovered from the Nazi party offices during the incrimination period, post war (and which was published in great detail in the colossal piece "The rise and fall of the Third Reich" by William Shirer). Every order was written down, every strategy was carefully mapped out on paper, every protocol, every contingency condition, painstakingly documented. The near-obsession of Hitler with laying down, noting down and passing down of orders left absolutely no room to interpretation or improvisation, creating great vulnerabilities in the system, if the plan deviated even a bit from the established norms. Added to that the many lines of execution - the SS, the Gestapo, the party itself, the military, and the Hitler Youth - all devoted to the same agenda, created even more opportunities to take chances by pitting one system against another.

"Valkyrie" plays more as a conventional suspense thriller than a historical account of what happened when a bunch of military and political heads came together, under the stewardship of Col. Stauffenberg, to assassinate Hitler, rid the country of his tyranny, and immediately make peace with the rest of the world. And the way they staged the coup wasn't with tanks and bullets, but by turning the same documentation (organization) that helped Hitler succeed, against himself. All that was needed was to create enough confusion in the system through misinformation, and before everyone knew what was happening, overwhelm the loyalists by lure or force, and take over the central command to nullify any backlash that might ensue. The plot worked to a certain degree with the head of SS (Heinrich Himmler) locking horns with the Minister of Interior (Goebells), the National Reserve Army (meant for the personal protection of Hitler) rounding up SS, the military heads catching themselves in a real dilemma whether to join the coup or wait until a clearer picture emerges. All this, by using the same communication lines (which were the heart of the regime) to coordinate, recruit and garner support all over the continent was a stroke of genius. Though it is public knowledge that the coup didn't succeed after all, the staging of the movie creates some truly suspenseful moments in pushing the efforts as close to real success as possible. And that is the hallmark of great direction, to create a sense of anticipation out of foregone conclusions.

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More Ramblings on films
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire
Quantom of Solace
The Dark Knight
Wall - E
The incredible Hulk
Indiana Jones and the kingdom of crystal skull
Speed Racer
Iron Man
Jodha Akbar
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve


This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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