Study Guide

The Sound of Music War

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HERR ZELLER: I suppose you noticed the obvious display of the Austrian flag in the hallway?

Herr Zeller, the local Nazi party chief, is honked off about the captain's display of the Austrian flag. He wants the Captain to stop clinging to his silly patriotic ideas and embrace the arrival and increasing power of the Germans. The pro-Nazi characters have a sense of invincibility and believe that the occupation is an inevitable reality, so everyone should just deal with it.

BARON: Is there a more beautiful expression of what is good in this country of ours than the innocent voices of our children?

HERR ZELLER: Oh, come now, baron. Would you have us believe that Austria alone holds the monopoly on virtue?

CAPTAIN VON TRAPP: Herr Zeller, some of us prefer Austrian voices raised in song to ugly German threats.

A little later at the captain's ball, Captain von Trapp and Herr Zeller get into a snippy exchange. Given what we know about how the Nazis often dealt with their opponents, the captain is showing some serious chutzpah.

HERR ZELLER: Perhaps those who would warn you that the Anschluss is coming—and it is coming, Captain—perhaps they would get further with you by setting their words to music.

In the same conversation, Herr Zeller sarcastically suggests that Captain von Trapp is ignoring the reality around him. According to Zeller, Austria is 100 percent going to end up annexed to Germany. The character of the captain is a stand-in for the resistance movement in general.

CAPTAIN VON TRAPP: Edelweiss, edelweiss, bless my homeland forever.

This innocent-sounding folk song is the captain's slap in the face to the new regime. As a national symbol of Austria, the flower is bound to stir up patriotic sentiment in the audience. The Nazis waiting for him to finish the song are not amused.

CAPTAIN VON TRAPP: You give that to me, Rolfe. Did you hear me?

ROLFE: I'll kill you.

CAPTAIN VON TRAPP: Rolfe. You'll never be one of them.

ROLFE: Lieutenant! They're here!

By this point, Rolfe is way more than a bad boyfriend. He's willing to turn the family over to his Nazi pals. The point of this scene is to show how fanatical adherence to an ideology can destroy compassion and common sense. That would never happen today, right?

HERR ZELLER: I have just come from the house of Captain von Trapp. Incidentally, the only one in the neighborhood not flying the flag of the Third Reich since the Anschluss, but we have dealt with that situation.

Unfortunately, as Herr Zeller predicted, the Nazis do invade Austria while Captain von T is off on his honeymoon. Zeller uses the captain's absence as an opportunity to hang the Nazi flag at his house. Captain von Trapp rips it right down when he gets home. Although his status as a high-ranking naval officer protects him to a certain extent, this is still a very in-your-face move.

HERR ZELLER: Why should it not go on? Nothing in Austria has changed. Singing and music will show this to the world. Austria is the same. Heil Hitler.

Max has just congratulated Herr Zeller on "allowing" the music festival to go on as planned. For Herr Zeller, it's clearly an opportunity to pretend that everything is the same in Austria after the Nazi takeover. But it's not. Hint: the "Heil Hitler" is the giveaway.

MARTA: Why was he so cross?

MAX: Everybody's cross these days, darling.

MARTA: Maybe the flag with the black spider on it makes people nervous.

LIESL: Is Father going to be in trouble?

MAX: He doesn't have to be. The thing to do these days is to get along with everybody.

This is a good example of the film's approach to the war: the children are shielded from thinking about it. Marta is a good example of childhood innocence of war and bloodshed. All they know is that Daddy's in a bad mood when he looks at that "spider," i.e. swastika, flag.

MAX: Georg, this is for Austria.

CAPTAIN VON TRAPP: For Austria? There is no Austria!

MAX: But the Anschluss happened peacefully. Let's at least be grateful for that.

VON TRAPP: Grateful? You know, Max, sometimes I don't believe I know you.

The annexation of Austria was one of the first steps in a world war that tore Europe apart and resulted in the deaths of about sixty million people (source). Is the film suggesting that it was people like Max, who advocated just going along and not making waves, who allowed the situation to snowball into the global catastrophe that it became?

And here's a heretical idea: maybe the captain wasn't so brave, after all. He fled. He could have stayed and joined the Austrian resistance, small as it was. But we'll give him a break. He had seven kids, and he saw the political situation at home as hopeless. The captain knew he'd be arrested and his family threatened.

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