A substantial part of Terrence Malick’s latest movie “A Hidden Life” takes place in a German prison where the film’s protagonist, a real historical figure now considered a Catholic saint, Franz Jägerstätter, is being held in prison for refusing to swear a loyalty oath to Hitler. As he mills about the prison courtyard with his fellow inmates, two words loom large on the stone wall that fences them in: “Sprechen Verboten.” Speaking prohibited.
Rod Dreher, senior editor at the American Conservative, has called “A Hidden Life,” “the best evocation of the gospel ever put to film.” That’s a serious claim to make. And I might agree.
Malick, a director known for transportive cinematography, takes viewers into the remote Austrian village of St. Radegund in the early 1940s. There, Franz, his wife Fani, and their three small daughters, faithfully farm their land and faithfully attend the local Catholic Church. When Franz hears about Hitler’s conquest, he begins to worry. His worst fears are realized when he’s called up for military service but refuses to swear the required oath to the Führer. Ultimately, Franz Jägerstätter was imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately, executed.
Not only does the film powerfully portray the suffering Franz is forced to endure, but how his decision to refuse the oath baffles nearly everyone else around him. Apparently, it’s a decision that still baffles people today, especially the film critics.
For example, in a review for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers faults Malick for giving audiences, quote, “very little to help us understand the man behind the saint” and next to nothing about “the thought process that helped Franz hold steadfast.” Apparently for Travers, devout Christian faith is “very little.” In reality, by portraying Franz’s devout Christian faith so clearly, Malick has told audiences all we need to know.
Before his imprisonment, Franz seeks counsel from his local priest and eventually the bishop. Both warn what his obstinance might bring to bear on his vulnerable family. Even so, he holds fast to his faith, and his wife holds fast to hers.
Given the central role faith plays in the film, one might expect it to be a bit more preachy. In fact, there’s very little dialogue, preaching or otherwise, in the whole three-hour film. While we hear the words of faith in Franz’s letters to Fani and in Fani’s prayers for Franz, it’s almost as if the sign on the prison wall, “speaking prohibited,” is the film’s central theme. Thus, in this film, the gospel’s power and Franz’s faith is mostly shown, not spoken.
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Source: Christian Headlines