The Monuments Men, a film directed by and starring George Clooney, tells the true but little-known story of a group of courageous citizen-soldiers who rescued literally millions of works of art stolen by the Nazis during World War II.
For simplicity sake, the film focuses solely on seven “Monuments Men” (and one woman, a French museum curator played by Cate Blanchett), but there were actually hundreds of them. This could lead the viewer to think that only these seven individuals were responsible for the major (and remarkably successful) effort to save priceless and magnificent works of Western art, from a Michelangelo statue to a Vermeer painting to Jan Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece.
The movie also splits up the six main characters as they travel singly or in pairs around France and Germany, moving breathlessly from one episode to another. This, and the historical period, could prove a bit confusing to pre-teen viewers. However, teens who have studied World War II and know something about famous artists shouldn’t be left in the dark. The movie does provide some basic context for the action, but background knowledge would enhance a young viewer’s experience.
This last point is key for parents who want to take their children to learn about this remarkable episode from our past. Unless they have already studied the basics of World War II, a quick primer from a parent or an age-appropriate book would prove helpful. In addition, younger children who have had little exposure to great art and artists may not connect as well to the meaning of this mission in which men do lose their lives to save the stolen art.
It should be noted that though this is a war movie, the violence is not handled in a graphic manner. But there are deaths of Monuments Men we come to care about, which are certainly upsetting.
In all, The Monuments Men tells a story very much worth telling, with worthy appreciation for the heroism of these remarkable volunteers who selflessly risked their lives to preserve a great deal of our cultural and artistic heritage.
For a great compendium of web resources about World War II, try this one from Ed Tech Teacher.