luther

Here’s a review of the movie, Luther. It sounds like this will be entertaining without being preachy or heavy-handed. The movie was released last September 26, 2003. Anyone who has seen this, please leave your review here.

At one important point in the movie LUTHER, a wonderful, entertaining historical drama about the life of the 16th Century Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Luther admits to the German Emperor that he may have been too harsh when attacking some of the Roman Catholic leaders. Later in the movie, in fact, he realizes, and painfully regrets, that some of his actions in support of controversial ideas have led to many deaths during the peasant revolt in Germany, which was inspired by his writings and fed by the intemperate zealotry of some of his supporters.
At the same time, however, the Luther presented by this movie returns several times to the central issue that occupied his mind, and changed the world: the primacy of God’s Word, the Bible. “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason. . . I will not recant,” Luther tells the German and Catholic authorities accusing him of heresy. “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” For history tells us it was the demands of study for academic degrees and preparations for delivering lectures as the teacher of biblical theology at Wittenburg University that led Luther to study the Scriptures in depth. His study of the Bible, the source of Christianity, convinced him that the Church had lost sight of the central truths of the faith: Sola Scriptura!

The movie LUTHER covers the early years of Martin Luther’s life, from his days as a monk in the early 1500s to the proclamation of the Augsburg Confession in 1530, which founded the Lutheran Church in Germany. It begins with the thunderstorm that led Luther to cry out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners like his father, “Help, St. Anne! I’ll become a monk.”

At the monastery, Luther is wracked by guilt because he feels completely unholy in the face of the God of Justice. His mentor orders him to pursue an academic career to relieve the strain. Soon, however, the young theology teacher is trying to correct the corrupt Catholic Church in Rome, whose corruption Luther saw first-hand. He begins teaching his students and the people in Wittenburg about the mercy and compassion of God, while complaining about the Church selling forgiveness of sins to the people for money.

All of this angers the Pope and many of his officials, who are trying to collect money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. They charge Luther with heresy, and the climax of the first half of the movie occurs when Luther refuses to renounce his writings, unless convinced by Scripture.

Joseph Fiennes does an excellent job of portraying this revolutionary historical figure, whose Protestant Reformation clearly led to the founding of America and the establishment of representative government in both England and the United States. Although he appears to be a bit too thin and young by the end of the movie, there are surviving portraits of Luther from the early 1520s when most of LUTHER takes place which approximate Fiennes’ features. Supporting Mr. Fiennes, as Luther’s supporter, Prince Frederick the Wise, is the legendary, always enjoyable Peter Ustinov, star of such classic historical movies as SPARTACUS and the great QUO VADIS.

Director Eric Till, who also did the MOVIEGUIDE® Award-winning TV program BONHOEFFER: AGENT OF GRACE, does a marvelous job of capturing the settings and atmosphere of 16th Century Germany and Italy. The movie is engrossing throughout, even though the high points and climax in the second half of the movie don’t match the powerful drama of the scenes where Luther refuses to recant.

MOVIEGUIDE® can find little or nothing wrong, factually speaking, with the historical portrayal of this part of Luther’s life, but LUTHER is told from a Lutheran, Protestant viewpoint. Hence, the movie may offend Roman Catholics, especially when Luther cracks some jokes about the Catholic leaders he opposes, including Pope Leo X. The ending of the movie also has one cardinal complaining, at Leo’s death, that, if Leo had been more like Luther, perhaps Roman Catholicism could have been reformed. Of course, after Leo’s death, the Catholic Church did indeed undergo reform within the movement known as the Counter-Reformation.

LUTHER clearly shows that Martin Luther’s career led to an increased respect for the mercy of God and the importance of God’s Word, the Bible. It also informs viewers, in an end credit, that Luther helped spread a new understanding of religious freedom throughout Europe. This is true, but only to a certain extent, because, for the next 150 years or so after Luther’s death, Europe was gripped by religious wars in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. In other words, a schism in a church can be an awful thing, especially when it leads to violence, although we are called by Scripture to stand for the Truth when absolutely required.

Regrettably, the movie says little about the other great foundation of Lutheran and Protestant belief – that each and every Christian is saved, and justified or declared righteous, by God’s grace through faith, not by works. This is a failing in LUTHER, even though the movie correctly and boldly stresses faith in God through Jesus Christ.

In the final analysis, LUTHER is must watching, because it shows, in a compelling and dramatic fashion, how Luther’s faith in God changed the history of the world. LUTHER is an entertaining, powerful portrait of the Truth which people of all faiths will appreciate and enjoy. It is one of the best movies of 2003.

Here are some reviews from different personalities.

Reviews by:
Pastor Henry Morris
Dr. Kirsi Stjerna
Pastor Richard Koenig
Dr. Eric Gritsch

LUTHER — Harmless Bio-Pic That Gives Just Enough of Luther’s Life To Be Useful
Review by the Rev. Henry E. Morris

Unlike Martin Luther, the new movie about him is rather pleasant but not compelling. The film depicts famous vignettes from his life: the lightning induced vow to join a monastery, the moment of panic during his first Mass, the posting of 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Church door, but does not convey the gravity of these events. At the end of the film we are not sure what Luther has accomplished and not aware of the powerful forces both within him and around him that drove him to greatness.

The Luther we see in LUTHER is, for the most part, nice. One doesn’t have to look far into his writings to wonder where they got that idea. Imagine Martin Luther strolling the center aisle at Mass delivering sweet toned homilies about how loving God really is. The passionate, combative, highly polemical Luther does not appear much in this film. Mores the pity. He is a lot more interesting than the kindly town parson depicted here.

The terrible consequences of the Peasant Rebellion are depicted powerfully in sobering scenes of devastation. Instead of showing us the slaughter, the film shows us the slaughtered. Piles of bodies, whole villages, charred ruins filled with death. It is enough to make us wonder how the growing Reformation movement ever could have produced something this awful. Unfortunately, such questions remain unaddressed in this film. We see a stunned Luther brooding over the destruction, but get no hint that he might be aware of his responsibility for it. In this film, Luther grieves over this holocaust because he loves the people and God loves the people and well, it’ just not right to butcher them.

The film is not without its charms. Peter Ustinov shows us a wily Frederick the Wise. We can see how Frederick earned his sobriquet. Having undercut his own huge investment in relics by supporting Luther, we can see his dawning realization that betting on actual Grace, while righteous, will not be good for business. But he realizes the immense political importance of undermining the Roman authority and is persistent in his efforts to do so. Watching him work the Emperor and the Imperial system is the most fun we’re going to have at this movie.

And there is something to be said for depicting Luther as approachable. I like to think of him as one who would extend himself for a miserably poor woman and her disabled daughter and would take pity on the family of a young man who commits suicide. His famous rapport with his students is hinted at in the delivery of a hilarious lecture in which the foibles of papal Rome are lampooned with gusto.

What we have here is a harmless bio-pic that gives us enough of the outline of Luther’s life to be useful as an introduction. I can’t imagine that this is what the film makers were hoping to achieve. Alas, a movie about Luther that lacks depth is an achievement of sorts.

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