Tag archives: Movies

A Hidden Life Is an Unparalleled Depiction of Christian Discipleship

by Dan Hart

February 4, 2020

Are we merely admirers of Christ, or are we followers?

For all Christians, this profound question should shake us to our core. It’s a question that runs through the heart of A Hidden Life, a powerful new film from acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick, who wrote and directed the three-hour epic that explores the calling and consequences of true Christian discipleship.

A Simple Life Shattered by War

A Hidden Life is based on the true story of an Austrian farmer named Franz Jägerstätter, a devout Catholic and conscientious objector martyred by the Nazis, who lived with his wife Fani and their three daughters in a small village in the mountains during World War II.

The movie begins by showing parts of an old Nazi propaganda film of Adolf Hitler touring a town in Germany and the adulation he receives from the people. In stark contrast, the film then envelopes its audience into the majestic beauty of rural Austria, where Franz and his family live an idyllic life as humble farmers. Scenes of hard farm work mixed with the simple joys of recreation with family early in the film establish the fact that Franz, Fani, and their girls are living a peaceful, happy, and fulfilled life. Other scenes of genuine comradery between Franz’s family and the other townspeople demonstrate that they are well-respected and even loved by the village.

It is in these opening scenes that the unique filmmaking style of director Terrence Malick becomes apparent. As in his past films, most of the scenes in A Hidden Life are presented as a kind of vignette, often with minimal dialogue. Sometimes, the dialogue is muted intentionally, with music or even a voice over being what you hear. Frequently, Malick will intersperse scenes with gorgeously rendered shots of nature—the mountains, fields of grain waving in the wind, a waterfall cascading down into mist. For the uninitiated viewer, this style can be a bit disorienting at first, but the film has a way of drawing the audience into its world after the first few minutes. One reviewer of A Hidden Life aptly described it as “a movie you enter, like a cathedral of the senses.”

Soon, the ominous sounds of Nazi airplanes flying high above the village convey a distinct sense that the simple lives of the farmers and townspeople will never be the same. Sure enough, Franz is conscripted into the German army, and at first he willingly complies with their demands that he complete basic training. After months away from his family, he is allowed to return home, but the possibility of Franz being called back into full duty as the war drags on hangs over him and his wife. From this point on, the central conflict that Franz faces becomes the focus of the film—he knows that he will be required to pledge an oath of loyalty to Hitler once he is called back up to service.

A Heroic Act of Conscience

As Franz seeks counsel from his parish priest on what to do, it is clear that many churchmen of the time could not muster the courage to make the principled stand that Franz is attempting to make. “We’re killing innocent people, raiding other countries, preying on the weak,” Franz pleads with his priest, asking for guidance. Instead of answering, the priest defers and directs Franz to ask his bishop for direction. When Franz is able to get an audience with the bishop, he asks him pointedly, “If our leaders—if they are evil, what does one do?” The bishop’s response clearly breaks Franz’s heart: “You have a duty to the fatherland. The Church tells you so.”

After this, Franz and Fani try to go about their normal life, but they are clearly mourning what they know is likely to come: Franz’s imprisonment and execution for his conscientious objection. Through extended scenes of the couple lying together in the countryside, sitting in their bedroom, or doing farm chores, it is clear that an internal battle is raging inside of them as they contemplate the consequences of the unthinkable—to forever lose their tranquil and joyful life together for the sake of sacrificing his life for the gospel.

As if this weren’t enough, Franz and his family begin to experience ridicule from their fellow townspeople. It seems that Franz is the only man in his village to publicly and openly question the Nazi war effort, which is clearly too much to bear for their guilty consciences. The town mayor, a close friend of Franz’s at the outset of the film, eventually ends up denouncing him: “You cannot say no to your race and your home. You are a traitor!” Franz and his family are publicly insulted, spat upon, and even physically threatened at various points in the film.

Despite the almost unimaginable pressure that Franz faces from his church, his peers, and even his own family (from his mother-in-law and sister-in-law) to give in to the Nazi’s demands, he refuses to take the oath to Hitler after his inevitable call-up to military service.

Once Franz is imprisoned, we begin to find out more about what is going on in his soul. In a series of interrogations by the Nazis and during interviews with his court-appointed defense attorney, Franz is challenged over and over again to give in. “You think your defiance will change the course of things?” “Words! [referring to the oath to Hitler] No one takes that sort of thing seriously.” Franz’s responses are simple and direct, but somehow their simplicity makes his motivations crystal clear: “I have that feeling inside me, that I can’t do what I believe is wrong. That’s all.” “If God gives us free will, we are responsible for what we do, what we fail to do.”

What will never be simple, though, is the toll that Franz’s sacrifice takes on his wife Fani and their daughters, which is illustrated through numerous scenes of toil and heartbreak as she undertakes difficult farm work and tucks their children into bed without him. Even still, the fortitude that Fani exhibits is every bit as heroic as Franz’s. Toward the end of the film, she is allowed to see Franz one last time in prison. In an almost unbearably emotional scene, Fani displays the epitome of spiritual union with her husband as she assures him of her solidarity even if his decision means death: “Whatever you do, I’m with you, always.”

As A Hidden Life draws to a close, it is clear that Franz’s experience of imprisonment, interrogation, physical abuse at the hands of the prison guards, and the mental anguish of his impending death has molded him into a Christ-like figure. When a Nazi major promises him that he will be free if he signs a paper oath to Hitler, Franz responds, “I am already free.” In one scene, he gives his tiny ration of bread to a fellow starving prisoner, who stares at him disbelievingly. In one of the most subtle yet surprisingly touching moments of the film, he carefully replaces an umbrella he had accidentally knocked over back to its original position. These actions show that he has indeed become a truly free man, unencumbered by worldly concerns, whose only goal is to do good with the little time he has left on earth.

An Unparalleled Depiction of Christian Discipleship

From a Christian perspective, watching A Hidden Life is an unparalleled film experience. In the words of one reviewer, it is arguably “the best evocation of the Gospel ever committed to film.” The deliberate, reverential style in which it is acted, filmed, and edited allows the viewer to truly immerse themselves into and contemplate the deep mysteries of some of the biggest questions that frame the nature of discipleship in Christ. How far must we go to become a true follower of Christ, and how do we reconcile this with our familial obligations? Is there meaning to our suffering for Christ when it causes us such indescribable pain? Does standing for the gospel really matter if no one seems to notice? Why does God seem to hide Himself from those who most desperately need Him?

The most pointed question this film asks of its audience is one that remains extremely pertinent in our own time, in which Christians remain the most persecuted religious group on earth. The question is this: When we are faced with the wrath of the world for our faith, will we shrink and make excuses, or will we stand for truth, no matter the consequences? In the film’s depiction of Franz Jägerstätter, we are a given a true-to-life role model for how to accomplish heroic virtue with grace and serenity.

But perhaps the greatest gift that A Hidden Life gives the viewer is three hours of space—space for reflection and contemplation of these most paramount of questions that probe the deepest mysteries of the faith life. In this age of distraction and anxiety, we desperately need it.

Netflix’s Mocking of Christians Is Not Sitting Well With Brazilians

by David Closson

December 18, 2019

Netflix is facing considerable pushback following its release of a film that contains profane, anti-Christian content. The film, titled The First Temptation of Christ, was produced by a Brazilian YouTube comedy group called Porta dos Fundos, which is known for producing irreverent content. The film depicts God and Mary as illicit lovers and Jesus as a closeted homosexual, among other things.

Outraged Netflix subscribers in Brazil and around the world are calling for the film’s immediate removal. One petition protesting the film has already collected over two million signatures since the film debuted on December 3.  

Described by the filmmakers as a “Christmas Special Show,” the plot follows Jesus as he returns to Nazareth for his 30th birthday party. Accompanying Jesus to the party is an effeminate and flirtatious character named Orlando. Conversations with Jesus’ family strongly imply that Orlando is romantically involved with Jesus.

Explicit and sexually suggestive language is used throughout the film, and many scenes are scandalous and outright blasphemous from the perspective of biblical Christianity. For example, Mary smokes marijuana, one of the wise men hires a female escort, and Jesus gets high off a “special tea.” God is depicted as a good-looking, talented, and likable character, while Joseph is portrayed as an incompetent carpenter. Furthermore, the film portrays Joseph as being jealous of God for the relationship he has with Mary. In one shocking scene, God reveals to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that he had intercourse with Mary, which resulted in her pregnancy. In a subsequent scene, God and Mary appear ready to kiss before Joseph interrupts.

Toward the end of the film, it is revealed that Orlando is Lucifer—evidently, he successfully seduced Jesus in the desert. While Jesus is summoning up the courage to fight him, Orlando/Lucifer forcibly kisses Mary. The movie concludes with Jesus killing Lucifer and accepting the call to spread God’s message.

From the perspective of a biblical worldview, there are a few points to be made. First, the film intentionally seeks to provoke and offend Christian sensibilities. The notion that Jesus is gay and has a homosexual lover contradicts the evidence of Scripture and its clear teaching on the immorality of homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10).

Second, the portrayal of God as a sex-obsessed deity is reminiscent of the sordid escapades of Greek gods and goddesses and in no way resembles the God of biblical Christianity. The depiction of God in this film is utterly blasphemous. In Christianity, blasphemy is the act of showing contempt or lack of reverence for God. The third of the Ten Commandments prohibits such irreverence: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Christians believe the name of God is holy and how we use God’s name ought to express the reverence that is due to him. The commandment forbids more than just the verbal misuse of God’s name (e.g., as an expletive): it also condemns any abuse of God’s name in “ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked” ways. Without a doubt, the film misuses God’s name by portraying Him in a manner that is diametrically opposed to how He is presented in the Bible.  

While Porta dos Fundos insists The First Temptation of Christ is merely satirical, the film has proven divisive in Brazil, a nation that is home to 120 million Catholics—more than anywhere in the world. The controversy is not surprising, then, as the film depicts Jesus in ways that are alien to Scripture.

It is worth noting that caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that are much less profane than how God and Jesus are portrayed in The First Temptation of Christ have provoked massive protests in Islamic countries. Most famously, Muslim terrorists attacked the office of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015 after the magazine depicted Muhammad in an unflatteringly light. Twelve people were killed and 11 wounded in the attack.

When films with sacrilegious content offend the sensibilities of believers, the question of free speech and censorship often arises. The First Amendment protects offensive speech, certainly. However, important questions ought to be asked. Such as, why do companies like Netflix think it is acceptable to violate basic standards of decency when it comes to religion? Why do many producers and directors think it is acceptable to attack the beliefs of millions of devout Christians in the name of “art”?

While it is no longer socially acceptable to malign people for their sex, race, or nationality, it is unfortunately still acceptable to bully and make fun of Christians and their beliefs. That is why Netflix and other media companies do not hesitate when providing a platform for a film as profane as The First Temptation of Christ. These companies think Christians are easy targets who will not fight back. Therefore, they believe they can continue to belittle and mock Christians through their films, art, and music with few repercussions.

However, it appears that Christians in Brazil have had enough and are pushing back. They should be applauded for voicing their objection to this offensive material. By uniting their voices, they are sending a clear message to Netflix that sacrilegious content like The First Temptation of Christ has no audience in Brazil and that movie makers should respect religious belief if they want an audience.

Review: God’s Not Dead

by Kathy Athearn

April 22, 2014

What would you do if your college philosophy professor told the class to write “God is dead” on a piece of paper, sign it, and hand it in, or else risk 30% of your grade? In the movie, “God’s Not Dead,” a freshman named Josh Wheaton is told just that. Josh looks around the room and watches everyone do just as the professor said. But as a Christian, he can’t bring himself to do it. As a result, the professor tells him that he must present his argument for why God is NOT dead to the entire class for the next several weeks. Then the class will vote on whether God is dead or alive.

Josh is now sacrificing grades in his other classes in order to devote time and energy to prove that God’s not dead. He also faces pressure from everyone —his parents, girlfriend, friends —to just let it go, and let the professor win his argument. But Josh just can’t do it. A local pastor helps him to stand up and defend the Truth, reminding him of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

Josh does a masterful job of arguing for God’s existence, angering his professor and slowly impacting his classmates. Josh knows that his purpose in life is to glorify God in every area of life, and he’s not going to let anyone frustrate or distract him.

As we witness the erosion of religious freedom in our country (especially for orthodox Christians) and we hear about the horrific persecution and massacre of Christians in other parts of the world, it is easy to become discouraged or disheartened. But I hope you take the time to watch “God’s Not Dead.” It is a positive, hope-filled movie that will inspire you to stand up and speak the Truth in Love. As our Redeemer said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world! (John 16:33b)

Archives