Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life”: How can a movie give “evidence of things not seen”?

Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life”: How can a movie give “evidence of things not seen”? December 13, 2019

I review, for America:

With “A Hidden Life,” the writer and director Terrence Malick set himself a bold and perhaps impossible task: using all the visual resources of film to represent faith itself, “evidence of things not seen.” This nearly three-hour hagiography of the Nazi resister Blessed Franz Jägerstätter refuses any visible success. In a time when even Christians often justify our religion on the grounds that it produces measurable outcomes like stable families or feelings of personal happiness, Malick gives us martyrdom: a protest against, among other things, positive outcome measurements. The “hidden life” of the title is not solely Jägerstätter’s but God’s.

The film’s first hour sets up an idyll in the Austrian farmhouse owned by Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife, Fani (Valerie Pachner). Their marriage is the foundation of their lives, their arms intertwining as the camera lingers on their wedding rings.

Any fictionalized hagiography has to balance the specific details of this life with the meaning it may hold for others. “A Hidden Life” falls far on the side of the general rather than the specific, in ways that damage the film’s political vision and its insight into character.

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