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Luther (REGION 1) (NTSC)
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Media: DVD
Manufacturer : MGM
Release data : 30 November, 2004

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    1 star1 star1 star1 star1 star    based on Erik Erikson ...

    The film script authors Camille Thomasson and Gavigan gave the statement, that they tried to be based on the psychobiography (written 1958), in which the scientist Erik H. Erikson analyzed the development and the identity crisis of the human being Martin Luther. Erikson had studied under the eyes of the daughter of Sigmund Freud, Anna. Erikson showed in his famous book, how the rage of Luther against his father developed a rage against church-authorities as well. The fire 1517 AD spread and half of Germany went into a battle against the Pope and his followers in Rome. Many blood was shed. The effect: the right to own an individuality reached acceptance against the usual habit of too much patience and submissiveness. That was the inner drive of the Renaissance's cultural evolution. One can find the origins of this emotional-based idea, that it should be necessary, to reach more independence against the educational usage of that time: The father of Martin Luther very often practiced corporal punishment against his son. Luther tried to set an end to those legal, hierarchical and anti-democratic behaviour attitudes. It was a fight against oppression. An example on which later on the human rights, the constitutional laws of modern states have been developed - spreading the idea not only to church patterns, but bringing it just as well to the basis of democracies all over the world too. Luther has build a thinking-street, on which later on the french revolution or the birth of modern societies could grow. But at first there was the fortitude of a son, who felt the strength in his soul, to make the things different to that way his father (and other authorities) wanted him to go. If you want to know more about this difficult route to find into an individual horizon of life, then read the book of Erik Erikson, on which the film-makers are based ...

    1 star1 star1 starNo starNo star    "God is all about love, he is within you"

    Luther should probably be forgiven for all its shortcomings as there's no doubt that the movie smacks of sincerity and earnestness, but nothing can escape the fact that the film is such a convoluted mish-mash of history and theatrics, that most viewers will either walk away having endured two hours of ponderous boredom, or are scratching their heads in wonderment at what it was all about. For about the first hour the film is pretty involving, as we witness Luther's journey from secluded, naïve monk to world-weary man of letters, who demonizes the corrupt Catholic Church at every turn, and becomes a martyr for the poor and downtrodden.

    But things go steadily downhill from there, as the movie descends into a series of stultifying dull set pieces, with lots of men running around in gaudy and flashy red dresses - It all begins to look like giant drag for the religiously inclined set. The film begins with Luther's (Joseph Fiennes) famous thunderstorm vow to enter a monastery, and quickly cuts to his wavering celebration of a first mass. His assignment to a theological chair at the University of Wittenberg is also briefly shown. Things appear to be going well for him, but when his proselytizing begins to anger the local clergy, and when word gets to Rome that his sermons are contradicting the Churches teachings, he is given a sharp and vitriolic warning to "not bite the hand that feeds him."

    Luther continues to be revolted by the blatant exploitation he sees around him, and is particularly incensed at the false preaching of the Dominican Tetzel (Alfred Molina, complete with cockney accent!). This disgust at the way the Church is unashamedly taking advantage of the poor and uneducated, forces Luther to post his famous 95 Theses. Luther tries to retain a respectful attitude toward the papacy, while standing steadfast in his beliefs of religious reformation. The heart of his grievances is the notion of indulgences: by paying the Church, you can absolve yourself or your relatives of their sins. Luther is incensed that the Catholic Church would demand money from people that don't have it, measure virtue by the coin, and basically allow the poor to buy salvation through fear.

    Much of the dramatic emphasis involves a series of machinations at Rome as a machiavellian and deceitful Leo X, (Uwe Ochsenknecht), a distinguished but overmatched Cardinal Cajetan (Mathieu Carriere), the power hungry Emperor Charles V (Torben Liebrecht), and Jonathan Firth as the ambitious, rigid papal legate Aleander, try to outfox Luther and brand him as a heretic. His only saving grace is sympathetic and kindly Prince of Saxony (a dithery Sir Peter Ustinov), who acts as Luther's religious conscience and protector. The story also touches on Luther's marriage to Katerina von Bora (Claire Cox) - a relationship that is totally glossed over and subjugated - and his final presentation of the German translation of the Bible to Prince Frederick.

    Throughout, we witness Luther as a kind of strange quasi-activist for radical social change, sensitive to the plight of the poor, but also willing to unapologetically splay himself at the foot of God, begging to be forgiven for his sins at every turn. Fiennes as Luther does an adequate enough job with the material. But his overly embellished style often comes across as over-acted and trite. The film also makes fine use of various European locations, and adequately evokes the realities of Luther's world, particularly the peasant's revolt where thousands of the poor were slaughtered. However, the major difficulty with this movie is keeping the narrative clear and concise. All too often Luther sacrifices dramatic harmony in its effort to stick to the facts, resulting in a film that starts out quite well, but becomes hopelessly muddled and awfully ponderous by the end. Mike Leonard March 05.

    1 star1 star1 star1 star1 star    Packed with important Christian history

    As religious biographies set to film go, "Luther" is among the best. Few serious directors have taken on the topic of Christian history since "The Ten Commandments." After the movie better informed about Martin Luther and the Reformation.

    Although important parts of Luther's life, positions and views are glazed over or ignored, it serves to incite curiosity about his 95 Theses and the Augsburg Confession.

    The difficulty with a film portrayal of one of Christian history's more influential figures is that the historical Martin Luther could not be captured into a couple of hours. It is just a movie, and is not supposed to address complex eternal questions.

    Protestant Christians will bristle at the brief look at Luther's theology, and the emphasis on the politics. What else could a filmmaker do? Already, such a film was destined for a short life in the theaters, and the fact is true: much of the issues surrounding Luther stemmed from his reaction to politics.

    Roman Catholics might be upset by the anti-Catholic slant. I do not think the film was meant to put Catholicism in a bad light as much as it was meant to show what events and concerns caused Luther to react. The movie was aptly titled "Luther" and not "The Beginning of the Reformation" or "The Great Religious Revolt."

    Indulgences have never been one of Catholicism's honorable or defensible provisions. There is no telling of Luther's story without examining the abuses of men looking to profit from the fear and guilt of illiterate believers. A modern Catholic will rightly note that personal Scripture among the laity is now encouraged by Rome, and be frustrated as he acknowledges indulgences are still part of the present Catholic theology.

    Lutherans will find the movie intriguing, realizing Luther's battle against Rome begot their own denomination. Coming back to the origin of the Lutheran faith will be exciting and educational.

    Joseph Fiennes is believable, albeit a little wooden. His Luther will remind viewers of Jeremy Irons' character in "The Mission." He is noble, calm and steadfast. Like Irons' priest, Luther faces great adversity through his desire to follow Jesus Christ.

    Luther comes across as a noble would-be martyr. He shows godly courage, and a few levels of depth. What is not shown are his own imperfections and inconsistencies. If this is all you know about Martin Luther, then you only know one small, if not important, side of him. Like St. Peter, like Deitrch Bonhoeffer, Luther had clear imperfections, yet he still stoof up for his beliefs.

    When Luther writhes in angst against temptation and evil, he speaks angrily to Satan as would anyone to his most cursed enemy. Like C. S. Lewis' Wormwood in "The Screwtape Letters," we can taste the insidious, pervasive nature of Satan. The spiritual conflict endured by Luther is not the glamorized head-spinning of "The Exorcist," but shows that he was not merely fighting flesh and blood entities through academic arguments.

    My recommendation of "Luther" is 100%. Sunday school, CCD and high school groups could watch it as fodder for discussion. This isn't for the "Adventures In Odyssey" or "Veggie Tales" crowd. My small group watched it, and discussed it comparing it with what we understood of Scripture. Could we stand as Luther stood for the defense of God's Word?

    A solid companion to the movie is "Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther" by Roland Herbert Bainton. It is an excellent addition to church video libraries.

    Anthony Trendl

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