The Monuments Men: Is Art Ever Worth a Human Life?
Babysitters acquired, my husband and I went on a double date with his brother and our sister-in-law last weekend. We all wanted to see The Monuments Men. With a promising ensemble cast and a great story to tell—the Allied soldiers who rescued masterwork art from the Nazis at the end of World War II—it was our unanimous choice. In hindsight, we should have gone to the The Lego Movie.
I didn’t find The Monuments Men quite as disappointing as The Times of London review, but I agree with the specific complaints: the cast wasn’t challenged by the script and the story was off for tone and accuracy.
For me, the problem became clear when George Clooney’s character wrestled for the second, or perhaps third, time with the question of whether art was worth a life when they lost their first member in defense of Michelangelo's Madonna of Bruges.
Clooney is not a talented enough actor to cause me to forget I’m watching George Clooney. Listening to him give a fundamentally conservative speech about preserving the knowledge of the past jarred me out of the story. It is also why I instantly picked out a detail. The dialogue referred to the artists, that if we didn’t preserve their works it would be as if the artist never existed.
But great artworks aren’t about the artist. Masterpieces grant to us knowledge or an example of master craftsmanship that inspires us to greater achievement ourselves. The masterworks are worth defending not because they tell us the master existed but because, as a whole, they represent history and knowledge that we could not replicate.
Given most of the stuff Hollywood churns out, it didn’t surprise me that they couldn’t see the distinction.