The history of the Church has been formed and defined by the sacrifice by her many martyrs. Martyrdom is considered one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed upon a faithful Catholic. Martyrs have been and are being created in every age.
The suffering undergone by the faithful gives rise to questions of uncertainty: to what extent should Christians defend the faith in the public arena?
“A Hidden Life,” directed by Terrence Malick, who is well-known for his masterfully crafted scenes and epic films, focuses on the hidden life of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter. Living a quiet life as a farmer in Austria with his wife Fani and their three kids, Franz is depicted as a devout man and devoted husband. Their peaceful family life is shattered by the chaos of the Second World War as men from every niche of society are called to serve.
A devout Catholic, Franz takes a stand against the unjust government of Nazi Germany despite pressure from every corner of his world: family, neighbors, priests and society. Standing firm until the end, Franz is eventually executed by the guillotine. Pope Benedict XVI declared him a Blessed for his admirable resistance against evil and for his own spiritual excellence.
In terms of cinematography, “A Hidden Life” is unquestionably one of the most beautiful movies we’ve ever seen. Every shot, from the mountains of Austria to the city streets of Berlin, was beautifully captured and resonated with the viewer all throughout the film.
There was a particularly breathtaking scene when Franz and Frani were in the cathedral and the camera slowly dragged upwards to depict the stunning frescos. Every shot, no matter how insignificant it may have appeared, offered something of value.
The movie was complemented by an outstanding score, with music from Bach, Arvo Part and Gorecki providing an ambience which allowed the plot to naturally develop over time.
The beauty of each scene often stood in direct contrast to the evil that Franz and his family had to endure for their beliefs. The movie slowly builds up to the point of Franz’s departure to Berlin, where he refuses to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler and is subsequently arrested and later executed.
All along the way, temptation besets Franz at every moment. Franz could have renounced his ideals and been freed, but he did not. These temptations served as opportunities for Franz to let the cup of suffering pass from him and go on with his happy life.
Yet, motivated by his faith in God and a desire to rest in the truth of Christ, he refuses to concede the slightest inch of ground to evil, displaying the soul of someone who has given everything he has to Christ.
Franz’s interior struggles are highlighted as well: he frequently faces challenges such as separation from family and friends, isolation in prison, and abuse by the guards and soldiers, among other great obstacles that Franz manages to overcome.
But in his humility, his trust remains in God and in the beatitudes even in his own suffering, such as when he sneaks some of the little food he is given to other prisoners who are weaker than him, or when he comforts a teen that is being executed alongside him.
No matter how much physical, mental and spiritual torment he endured, Franz never stopped obeying Christ’s teachings, demonstrating the timeless Christian teaching that through God, anything is possible.
While the movie’s buildup demonstrated the rising tensions as Franz comes to face the consequences of his actions, it was incredibly long, and it seemed to drag on at times. The movie is roughly three hours long, yet the same powerful message could have been conveyed in half the time.
Additionally, despite the sheer length of the movie, we never really get to know much about Franz himself, or his family for that matter; much of the information about his life and later canonization had to be found from other sources.
As St. Irenaeus says, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The heroic struggles of Franz serve as a model for holiness for all of us to stand firm for the truth no matter the cost. In modern society, which often prioritizes anti-Christian values, it requires commitment and God’s grace to remain in Christ, regardless of the consequences that follow.