WHAT TO SEE: Martyr of conscience persevered in faith
A Hidden Life
August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon
174 min. • Rated: PG-13
Franz Jägerstätter was a simple farmer of deep faith. When his conscience forbade him from armed service in support of Hitler’s Germany, he suffered the repercussions and eventually paid the ultimate price. Once his story became better known, his cause for sainthood was opened and he was beatified in 2007.
A Hidden Life tells the story of this brave man who held to his sacred principles even when much of the populace of Austria — including its clergy — capitulated in fear to the Nazi annexation of their country. Even his wife, mother, and parish priest initially wished he would somehow accommodate the call to fight. He obtained deferrals, but was denied a position in the hospital corps when he was forced to report to the Austrian Army in 1943. Refusing to take the oath to Hitler, he was imprisoned, repeatedly tortured, convicted of treason, and finally executed by guillotine.
This atmospheric film is leisurely paced — a critic might say “plodding” — as it seems in no hurry to arrive at its inevitable conclusion. It is established early and often that Jägerstätter and his wife are hardworking farmers who dearly love each other and their three daughters. He wrestles interiorly with the pressures and decisions he faces and their potential consequences for his family. The spite of their once-friendly neighbors compounds their pain. Behind prison walls, he remains stoic and submissive to his beatings, but unshakable in his convictions. His letters home express his continued love and affection for his family as well as his solid faith.
Dialogue is sparse, but important themes are explored: the sense of abandonment by God, the problem of pain, the temptation to sacrifice one’s integrity in order to avoid suffering. Confusion spews from the lips of cynics: “He who created this world made evil,” says one, while another speaks of how the Antichrist “uses a man’s virtues to enslave him.” Jägerstätter will have none of that: He knows that even in his cell, bruised and deprived, he is truly free.
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.