Alternatively titled: “The Virtue of the Vicious”
The Red Baron, directed by Nikolai Müllerschön, is a biographical action film surrounding the German World War I fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the “Red Baron”. The struggles of Richthofen regarding the morality of war are parallel to those of soldiers from All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Not So Quiet… by Helen Zenna Smith. While the film writers took several liberties with scenes of Richthofen’s morality, making the actual depiction fictitious, the film was inherently well made, with phenomenal acting from Matthias Schweighöfer. His performance as the young flying ace quickly tormented by the horrors of war was enough to pull on any heartstrings as Richthofen faces the loss of his patriotism and his comrades.
A major flaw of the movie, in my opinion, would be the romance between Richthofen and a nurse, Käte Otersdorf. While Lena Headey brought the sharp Käte to life, their romance was hardly given any screen time except for a few gratuitous scenes of their relationship. On screen, Richthofen and Kate have one date outside of her caring for his skull injury, and viewers are supposed to believe that they had this deep and meaningful relationship that would have lasted their entire lives had it not been for his death. More realistically, I can see each holding on to another who has seen the same horrors of war that this movie has no fear of showing.
This is the last look they share before the Red Baron takes his last flight, and while I can see fondness, it holds none of this great romance that I felt the film was trying to portray.
The two have several deep and meaningful conversations about war and patriotism and I fear that Otersdorf was only placed into the film as a vehicle to announce Richthofen’s ideals. As he said to his men, “we are here to shoot down planes, not pilots.” which unfortunately directly conflicts with something he is quoted with saying of the opposite meaning, being that of shoot down planes AND pilots which is a mark against the film for throwing away historical accuracy.
Viewers can see Richthofen growing wearier as the war continues and he loses friends and comrades in a powerful scene of the von Richthofen family eating dinner. You can see his sister in her volunteer nurse uniform, and him, his father, younger brother, and young cousin all in military regalia. While their young cousin seems excited to about to be shipped off to the front, the two brothers stay still and stoic as their sister gushes over old pictures and asking of Richthofen’s friends creating a rather awkward atmosphere. Her constant questions force him to yell out that they have all died, almost as if it was his first time admitting the fact out loud. It is not the first time he grieved for his friends, nor the first time he had stoically shut down, but it was still a powerful moment as the paradigms of his family was shifted from the propaganda they had been spoon-fed from the homefront and the Kaiser.
Besides the depiction of Richthofen’s mental health progression, the detail I appreciated the most was the true depiction of life at the front. Bombs dropping, soldiers flying like debris, bodies in the trenches, were all depicted while the war continued around them. As Richthofen progressed through the ranks, he visited more battles and footholds where ground fighting occurred which furthered his moral quandary with his and Germany’s place in a war. Richthofen butts head with the Kaiser on multiple accounts until he tells him that Germany should surrender and that he no longer wished to be away from the fighting. He could not deal with himself ordering people to die while he would not make the same sacrifice he was asking of his men.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the film despite some of its historical inaccuracies and the pointless romance sprinkled through. While knowing, historically, the outcome of the war and of his premature death, I could not help but feel some sort of hope that possibly things would turn out differently as each of the characters were given so much life and personality that it was almost impossible to not feel connected to them in some way, making this film a keeper to me.