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Monday, May 09, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Luther was the most visible proponent...

Thanks Dave for this wonderful website, I'm a regular lurker here :) I read some interesting posts on a DVD review site yesterday on the movie Luther. Here's the overpositive PR given for the DVD and the posts in response to it. (From http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=57026)

Grateful Lurker

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From the PR…

Luther was the most visible proponent of the Protestant Reformation and this balanced and historically accurate film shows how Luther, played by an intense and mesmerizing Joseph Fiennes, caused a riot and uprising that changed the path of history and the world of religion irrevocably.

This dramatically gripping and visually stunning movie, depicting the first ever translation of the Bible from Latin and the beginning of the Protestant movement, has a powerhouse cast, with the charismatic Joseph Fiennes, Sir Peter Ustinov, Bruno Ganz and Alfred Molina. In his last ever screen role, 82 year old Peter Ustinov plays a hugely loveable and playful Prince Frederick the Wise, who is enchanted by the tenacity and courage of his citizen monk, Luther. Joseph Fiennes is a lean and handsome Luther, he is an intense deep thinker and a man of determined action. This role has to rival his ‘Shakespeare in Love’ as his most impressive screen work to date.

The film is an epic production that recounts one of the greatest revolutionary periods in history. Veteran British Director Eric Till has produced a rich and evocative classic that takes the viewer back to the sixteenth century. The film is an artistic showcase with extraordinary attention to historic detail, the accuracy in the costumes and settings is mesmerizing. The real life locations – including many medieval churches and castles – give the film an unbeatable sense of authenticity. The level of fidelity to the actual history is remarkable and powerful. The film captures timeless historical moments, including Luther nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Wittenberg church, the Diet of Worms (a council presided over by Emperor Charles V), the Confession of Ausburg.

This is a time when the Middle Ages gave way to revolution, when the power of one man’s convictions rocked the world. Before the reformation one didn’t ask questions, all answers came from the highly structured hierarchy of the church. But Luther was horrified by the scandals and corruption that plagued the 16th century Church. He protested at how the church was securing funds and was taking advantage of its congregations. He chose to risk his life in order to question accepted religious practice. He fought to also reveal the truth of the Bible to the people. This is the man who set the world alight by translating the New Testament from Latin in to German, so common people could have direct access to ‘The Word of God’.

The viewer can’t help but to sympathise with Luther. He is branded a heretic and is excommunicated and banned by both the Emperor and Pope Leo X under the threat of death. He faces the charge that he is tearing the church apart. He grapples repeatedly with the possibility that he is destroying rather than building God’s kingdom.

Luther is horrified when he sees his efforts to reform the church turning anarchistic, co-opted by others for political purposes. He is appalled by the popular revolution with the attendant butchery and bloodshed. Passions are set alight and the film shows townspeople burning churches, destroying relics, dragging the monks who cared for them out of their church and pummelling them. Rocks crash through stained glass windows, the blood of peasants runs on the floors of ruined churches.

Luther’s gentle heart is torn to pieces, he wanted to show men the path of truth and love, and instead surveying the carnage he agonises: “I have torn the world apart”. In the midst of the pain however, in a true life twist worthy of a Hollywood plot, Luther marries an escapee nun, Katerina (Claire Cox)!

The movie has all the elements of a blockbuster. It is also a remarkable tale of a man who transcended all the powers and principalities of this world. It is an inspiring lesson in having the courage to do the right thing.


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RESPONSES:

ElectricSheep:

The PR posted says "this balanced and historically accurate film" and "the level of fidelity to the actual history is remarkable and powerful".

Is that true or is the movie a one-sided attempt at showcasing history? As an non-religious person, I'm just getting a little tired of history being whitewashed. I don't like ignorance spreading like that, especially when faced with such PR.

Luther isn't just one of the initiators of protestantism. He had some serious (and violent) issues with Jews, prostitutes etc. Does the film cover this too? Does it go over his book "Von den Juden und ihren Lügen" ('About the Jews and their lies')? Many who have read this work of Luther's and know of his anti-semitic sentiments, have labelled him the Hitler of his century. The Nazi district-leader Julius Streicher specifically referred to Martin Luther's influence on his own anti-semitism during the Nuremburg trials.

In Luther's book "Von den Juden und ihren Lügen", he outlines his 7-step plan to persecute Jewish people. Here's a summary of these:

(1) Set fire to Synagogues and (their) schools. About this, Luther said "Und solches sol man thun, unserm Herrn und der Christenheit zu ehren damit Gott sehe, das wir Christen seien" ('And such should people do, to honour our Lord and Christianity such that God sees, that we are Christians')

(2) Destroy the houses of Jews and drive them together into a stable/shed

(3) Rob the Jews of all their religious literature, upto the last page

(4) Forbid the Jews, on pain of death, to openly pray to God

(5) Put the the Jews under house-arrest

(6) Take away from the Jews all their gold, silver and jewels (take it into custody)

(7) Make the young, strong Jews work hard

And Luther's ideas/beliefs didn't stop there. I'm going to do some literal translations from the original German here, so bear with the bad grammar:

About children with disabilities, he had this to say: "Wenn man aber von den teufelsähnlichen Kindern erzählt ... so halte ich dafür ... dass es wahre Teufel sind" ('But when people speak of the devil- lookalike children ... then that's why I think .... that they are true devils').

Adulterers and prostitutes also had a place in his, as the PR puts it, 'gentle heart'. Speaking of prositutes he said "Wenn ich Richter wäre, so wollte ich eine solche französische giftige Hure rädern und ädern lassen" ('If I were judge, then I would let such a poisonous French prostitute [undergo unpleasant torture to do with bloodletting and breaking limbs on a wheel]').

Luther on adulterers "Warum tötet man die Ehebrecher nicht?", meaning "Why don't people kill the adulterers?".

He also toyed with the idea of killing the Pope: "Der Papst ist der Teufel; könnte ich den Teufel umbringen, warum wollte ichs nicht tun?" ('The pope is the devil; were I able to kill the devil, why wouldn't I do it?').

There's a lot more, but I'll stop here. In light of all of this, I wonder whether any viewer should sympathise with Luther like the PR claims they would. The claim that "It is an inspiring lesson in having the courage to do the right thing" is rather disturbing. If that is right, I don't want to know what wrong is...

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mateo107:

not to sound insensative, because i don't agree with most of what Martin Luther stood for, but what does this really have to do with the DVD? unfortunately, while some of Luther's ideas were new and groundbreaking, some of them were the common prejudices of his day. i wouldn't expect to see a movie about Henry Ford mention his antisemitsm, since that isn't really related to his accomplishments. perhaps it's not right that society has forgotten about the dark side of Ford, Lindberg, Luther, etc., but instead maybe we should respect that Lutherans have decided to dismiss certain teachings of Luther.

~MATEO


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ElectricSheep:

Mateo,

I was referring to the DVD's PR blurb when I posted before. It seemed to imply a one-sided view of an historical figure who had a whole range of ideas, some of which seems to have been omitted from "this balanced and historically accurate film". I could be wrong, perhaps the film does cover all his writings on various topics, but the PR doesn't indicate this.

For fear of taking this discussion off topic, I still want to address some of what you've said. I can't agree with your assessment. Some of Luther's ideas may have been common prejudices of his day, but the fact that he is a man whose (religious) ideas are followed puts him in a different position from Lindberg and Ford. Ford and Lindberg were not political or religious leaders who went out to share their visions in these areas with others. Their main contributions are in different fields altogether. I've never heard of any institutions called Fordism or Lindbergism where people chose to follow their collective opinions on how society should be. I don't know much about Ford or Lindberg, but as far as I know, people don't use Ford or Lindberg as a rolemodel in this sense.

However, Luther is such a man. "That we should respect that Lutherans have decided to dismiss certains teachings of Luther" implies that they had a choice in this decision. I don't know about others, but my parents and I never learnt about Luther's more controversial views. I suspect that most people aren't informed about it either. If we had known, we might have decided to only accept part of his teachings or leave him behind altogether far earlier. The fact is, there is only one website that has an English translation of his book "Von den Juden und ihren Lügen". Unsurprisingly, it's a site that wholeheartedly accepts all his teachings: an Aryan (neo-nazi) website. Clearly there are those people who respect all of Luther's viewpoints even today. The man's complete teachings have the ability to inspire the wrong kind of ideals.

There are other historical characters who've influenced the societal choices of nations, for a time at least. Many of these have now rightly been identified as flawed (or even as monsters). We do not choose to see only their good points. On the other hand, as I recall, the film "The Downfall" was seriously opposed for its depiction of Hitler as anything but a monster. No one will make a film that only shows his 'good side' (with a PR to match) and no one will claim to follow only his 'good teachings'. Not today, and I hope not four centuries later either.

Luther's teachings have definitely been influential right up to mid last century. Nazi Julius Streicher, mentioned in the last post, was only one example, more famous because he was a ringleader. Another example: In the year 1940/41, people with disabilities who were entrusted to the evangelical institutions for the disabled in Neuendettelsau/Bayern were, with reference to Lutheran state teachings, finally handed over to the state authorities. That they were put to death, was known to those responsible. 65 years ago is not as long ago as one might think.

Luther was not only anti-semitic, he was also gravely opposed to other religious groups. According to him, if they would not submit to the church they should be handed over to the executioner. He also bore a great hatred towards Turks (inciting people to murder and rob them), etc.

My previous post still has relevance to the DVD release. Many people that are going to see this movie don't know much about the actual history of its namesake. For example, converts in developing countries will be shown this film and will accept that Luther is purely a saint-like reformer. That sets the stage, as it has in the past, for accepting many of his other philosophies (e.g. dislike/hatred of religious minorities). I expect the DVD release to at least have a backflap that indicates that this film shows only the good teachings of Luther, rather than the rosy-coloured promo seen above. Furthermore, I would think it appropriate that the DVD also has some extras (even just textual notes) on his other ideas and that these should not be considered acceptable in the present-day. It is more than just historical accuracy, it is social responsibility. (And yes, this also extends to DVD releases).