This week I went with a couple of fellow Foresters to see Terrence Malick’s new film A Hidden Life. Whilst I had scanned a review of the film, the truth was I had not fully registered the sheer scale, depth and length of what I was to sit through. However, it was a line from Rod Dreher’s excellent review of the film – “the best evocation of the Gospel ever committed to film” that was enough for me to say ‘yes’. Not knowing what to expect was both exciting and unnerving, exciting because we were heading out to the cinema, unnerving because I had an inkling it might be demanding…
The film is long. I’m talking Peter Jackson timings here. Yet, whilst the pace is slow, it does not drag and is a testament to the skill of Malick’s artistic direction – a feat made all the more impressive due to the paucity of dialogue.
“We create admirers. We do not create followers. Christ’s life is a demand. We don’t want to be reminded of it.”
A Hidden Life is strewn with Biblical references and parallel’s to the Gospel. A memorable scene is when the main character Franz Jägerstätter is talking with a local man touching up the artwork in their village church. Looking at the painting of Christ on the church wall, he says to Franz, “We create admirers. We do not create followers. Christ’s life is a demand. We don’t want to be reminded of it.” This is the linchpin of the whole film – the straightforward, yet costly reality of what it means to follow Jesus. He then goes on to make a somewhat prophetic statement that there is an even darker time coming when men won’t fight the truth, they will just ignore it.
It seems that time has come.
The film is emotionally charged, especially with regard to Franz and Fani’s three children and the impact of Franz’s decision on them. It makes for uneasy watching if you have children yourself. What would I do? Do I admire Christ or actually follow Him?
For me, a striking aspect of the film was the fundamental stance that Franz takes. He knows where the line is and he refuses to cross it. Many of us today move the line much, much further up the field and the result is that compromise eases itself in. Just like Franz, we have all the reasons under the sun to ignore the line in front of us.
It was telling that Franz was the only one in the village who saw the line and refused to cross it. The refusal cost him everything and I guess this is the challenge of the film. It would have been so simple, so easy for him to make just the smallest compromise, yet he remained steadfast, resolute and above all, free.
I am struck by the compromises I make in my life, more comfort, a bit more ease. What’s more is that I’ve got so used to it. The solution is not to go looking for trouble, instead perhaps this film is a timely reminder. A reminder to consider whether I simply admire Christ, paying Him lip service in word and action or am I actually willing to take up my cross, lose my life and follow Him?
On the way back, in the car, we chatted about where we draw the lines today. In the workplace this has become particularly hazardous. It’s no longer enough to abstain from ideological assent, you have to partake or else. In essence, the lines have become more fundamental and therefore much more costly.
Franz Jägerstätter kept it simple: “I can’t do what I believe is wrong…”
If you get the chance, go and see the film.