Herman Otten asked me to write a review of the new
Luther Movie for Christian News.There
are now so many reviews; there may as well be one more.
We all carry different baggage to the movie theater.For the past 22 years, this writer has watched the 1956, black and
white Luther movie twice a year with adult instruction classes.I can practically recite every line from memory.
For modern day viewers, the pastor needs to explain a
lot of what is happening in the 1956 movie because they can’t follow all
of the theological issues.
In 1956, at age 8, I can remember standing in the cold
rain with my parents, freezing under an umbrella, in a line two blocks long,
, waiting to get in the theater on Broadway.The Catholic Church had banned the movie and everyone in
New York City
wanted to see it.
Macomb County Michigan has more Lutheran Schools than
any other county in the
.On opening night, at the Star
Theater, on 15 mile and Gratiot,
Friday, September 26, 2003
, there weren’t more than fifty people in the theater.Things change.Church
Growth and contemporary worship hate history and identity.
Frankly, I was afraid to see the new Luther movie.What were they going to do to my head?Would I see Luther the liberator, Luther as moral teacher, an eastern
mystic Luther, a proletariat Luther, or, worst of all, Luther without
religion?How much apologizing
and how many excuses would I have to make after my members saw it?I had better see it first.
To my surprise it was an excellent movie.From my view Joseph Fiennes, a Shakespearean actor, played Luther as
a German Hamlet.To reform or
not to reform: that is the question.
The cast, extras, settings, scenery, cinematography,
and story line were totally superior to the first movie.Yes, as a seminary graduate, I would have preferred a more in depth
this is a great movie to introduce someone to Luther for the first time.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the movie a
thumbs-down with an article titled, “Joesph Fiennes’ weak portrayal
leaves ‘Luther’ lacking much spirit.”
Ebert wants to know where is the moral force of the
Reformation.He comments, “I
doubt if he was much like the uncertain, tremulous figure in
Ebert doesn’t understand that Luther never planned a
Reformation.He planned to
confess the Bible and die a martyr like others before him.Luther didn’t think he was going to walk out of
alive.Is he supposed to shout,
“Here I stand” instead of reflecting that this is also the end of my
life?Try this quote from
Luther’s “Table Talks” Ebert!
Luther’s Own Call to the Ministry Between November 9 and 30, 1531
“Unless those who are in the office of preacher find
joy in him who sent them, they will have much trouble. Our Lord God had to
ask Moses as many as six times.He
also led me into the office in the same way. Had I known about it
beforehand, he would have had to take more pains to get me in. Be that as it
may, now that I have begun, I intend to perform the duties of the office
with his help. On account of the exceedingly great and heavy cares and
worries connected with it, I would not take the whole world to enter upon
this work now.On the other
hand, when I regard him who called me, I would not take the whole world not
to have begun it.Nor do I wish
to have another God. Others before me, like Erasmus, criticized the life
that people lived under the papacy, but I never thought I would be able to
attack the two pillars on which the papacy rests, the mass and the
[monastic] vows, for to do so seemed to me like an attack on God and his
The art of moving making has improved since 1956. It
also doesn’t hurt to have a great actor like Peter Ustinov as Duke
Fredrick, manipulate his nephew, the Emperor Charles the V.
There are scenes in this movie you will remember for
the rest of your life, that rank with
’s greatest.Priests walk into
brothels, cardinals list the Pope’s mistresses, peasants live in squalor,
the church is the seat of political power, and money rules the hearts of
men.Where did Thrivant get the
courage to make this movie?After
it was over, I felt sorry for Roman Catholics.Never has a movie bashed the Catholic Church like this one.I loved it.
Luther, along with thousands of peasants, is seen on
his knees kissing his way up the steps in
.As he reaches the top, he
looks back at all the fools he joined trying to free a relative from hell,
crushes the indulgence in his hand, and starts a crusade to destroy the
Tetzel is portrayed as a modern-day money raising
American televangelist, with all the intensity of Oral Roberts at his best.He makes you want to empty your wallet.
Carlstadt could have been Charles Finny, Billy Sunday,
Brigham Young, or all three rolled into one.
Luther is a veritable accident of his generation,
pushed by forces beyond his control, an outsider, at first enthused, then
disillusioned and appalled, and then driven to expose God’s word to the
world no matter what the cost, bloodshed, or personal shame.“If you don’t like my translation of the Bible, then complain to
My favorite scene is the Pope hunting a wild boar,
throwing the spear, hearing the death squeal, and the words spoken,
“Arise, Oh Lord, a wild boar his entered your vineyard.”
Could modern day audiences have taken a more authentic
view of Luther?Probably not!Luther defended the State.The
movie shows him questioning the death of thousands of peasants after the
revolts of 1525, when in reality, Luther encourage the Duke to restore order.
Every generation reinterprets
its heroes in their own image.Just
look at the hippie Jesus movies of the 60’s and the politically correct,
“I care” Jesus movies of the 80’s.
Thrivant portrayed Luther as
conflicted, a man with unanswered questions, seeking truth, victimized by
circumstances beyond his control.The
post-modern Luther is a man who discovers that the Bible is more important
than life and a man with which young audiences can identify.
You can’t tell the entire
Reformation in two hours!This
movie will be a great start for adult instruction.