Sunday, September 06, 2020

A little more about the movie "A Hidden Life"

A Hidden Life. A film by Terrence Malick, made in 2019, now available for rental on Netflix.  

In contemplating more about this film (re. a conscientious objector to Naziism in Hitler's time), which I watched last night and highly recommend, the word "cult" became prominent in my thoughts.  I looked up its definition:
A system of devotion or loyalty directed toward a particular figure or object.  A misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.

It's pretty obvious that because earth humans are tribal beings, we instinctively group together.  As I look at life objectively with a somewhat simplistic view, it seems to me that every grouping of mankind eventually becomes a hierarchical "cult" (using the least offensive descriptive sense of that word, because cults are most often identified with fanaticism), in which one must put their faith if they are to comfortably live/work within it. If the authority/leader at the top (whether it be a husband, a parent, a CEO, a priest, minister or a President) uses power selfishly to their own advantage against the welfare of the overall group, the cult can quickly become a dark -- and even dangerous one -- especially for the most vulnerable members on the lowest rungs of the group's ladder.  

Using this as a guideline, perhaps it is important and necessary to recognize this fact -- and to look beyond appearances to discover one's true identity, in order to live an authentic life. One's own experience is always the best teacher.  Franz, the main character in the film, was driven--no matter the cost--to live by his core principles when dark forces invaded his and his family's peaceful pastoral existence. He was impelled to live by his own truth--and his wife, though grief-stricken, honored and loved him for following his conscience.

The way the family in this film is treated by their friends and neighbors because of the husband's decision to leave the Hitler cult is a familiar story. Cults, big or small, don't look kindly on "deserters" who rock the boat as they dive overboard and swim away. To use another metaphor, there is usually a price to pay when leaving the herd.

The Christian mystic, St. John of the Cross, once put it this way: "In the inner wine cellar I drank of my beloved, and, when I went abroad through all this valley I no longer knew anything and lost the herd which I was following.  If then, I am no longer seen or found on the common, you will say that I am lost, But, stricken by love, I lost myself, and was found."

I realize my musings are a simplistic view of things. There are many philosophical nuances that can be added, and the film shows some of them, even without words needing to be spoken -- as different characters along the way in Hitler's time evaluate their own beliefs and actions in contrast to Franz.  In their eyes, you can see the reflection of "What if I......"  I wonder how many of the Republican "leaders" in America today are experiencing that kind of self-reflection?  As in Hitler's time, we can see them murmuring in angst behind the scenes, but none of them are speaking out in public defiance of Trump. The courage it takes to leave the herd seems to be absent in them.

Variety had a very good review of the movie (see:, ending this way:
In this film, Malick draws a critical distinction between faith and religion, calling out the failing of the latter — a human institution that's as fallible and corruptible as any individual. At one point, Franz goes to a local chapel and speaks to the cynical old artisan (Johan Leysen) restoring the damaged paintings on its walls. "A darker time is coming, and men will be more clever," the man tells him. "They don't confront the truth. They just ignore it." In recent years, Malick may have seemed out of touch, responding to issues that interest him more than the public at large. But whether or not he is specifically referring to the present day, its demagogues, and the way certain evangelicals have once again sold out their core values for political advantage, "A Hidden Life" feels stunningly relevant as it thrusts this problem into the light.