1506, Leonardo was completing The Mona Lisa and still had 13 years to
live. Michelangelo, who had
completed David, began a relationship with Pope Julius II that would
culminate in his painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which he
started two years later. Henry
VIII was 15 years old and in two years would become King of England. Nobody
had heard of a young Catholic Monk who was living in Germany.
Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes) was an overly devout monk, one so
pious and self-critical that he felt doomed. Despite the accomplishments of
his then more famous contemporaries, this not-so-simple Monk would have a
more revolutionary, world-changing effect than all three of them combined.
gives us a memorable picture of the great man, and the turmoil he faced. The
film simplifies Lutherís journey. It shows that on a trip to Rome in 1510
he was exposed to the corrupt system of selling Indulgences (the remission
of the time a soul must spend in purgatory before being admitted into
Heaven), which opens Lutherís eyes for the first time.
Infuriated and inspired, he returns and the film follows tradition by
showing him tacking 95 demands for change in the Church (The 95 Theses) on
the Cathedral door at Wittenberg.
fact, what the trip to Rome showed Luther was the moral corruption of the
clergy, mainly sexual. The
issue of the Indulgences didnít arise for another seven years. After his
trip to Rome he became a respected lecturer. It was in 1517, seven years
after his trip to Rome, that he published the 95 Theses, (scholars dispute
that he ever actually tacked them on the door), but he did publish them and
the world changed.
possible that to appreciate the masterpiece that Director Eric Till has
produced, one needs to have been raised a Catholic.
Without the knowledge of the dogma and the guilt that is still a part
of a Catholicís upbringing, itís easy to believe that someone not so
schooled could not comprehend the extent of the courage Luther needed to do
what he did. Iím not talking
here about the physical courage to take on the most powerful organization in
the world, or to risk a horrible death by The Inquisition.
Iím talking about the moral courage to turn his back on the beliefs
of his upbringing; beliefs like there being no salvation outside of the
Church; beliefs that the Church was a representation of God on earth and
wasnít to be questioned. Acting
in the face of those beliefs took more courage than challenging a Pope or
risking torture and a horrible death by burning at the stake.
film concentrates on Luther, naturally.
The Pope is rarely seen and we never see Julius II, who was Pope in
1510, and who was an efficient businessman, who encouraged the money-raising
scheme of the sale of Indulgences that finally so infuriated Luther. The
Pope we see, however, is Leo X (Uwe
Ochsenknecht), who succeeded Julius II in 1513 and was a disaster for
the Church. The picture
presented of Leo is historically inaccurate.
Instead of strong, he was weak and economically profligate, and
greatly expanded the selling of Indulgences. One criticism I have of this
film is this inaccurate depiction of Leo, whose ineffective administration
greatly weakened the Church economically and made Lutherís challenge much
worse for the Church.
the film perpetuates the myth that Luther said ďHere I stand; I cannot do
otherwiseĒ to Emperor Charles V (Toren Liebrecht) at the Diet of Worms in
1521. In fact, what he said
was, ďI cannot and I will not
recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God
help me. Amen.Ē That sounds
pretty profound to me; why diminish it by adding fiction?
Elector Friederich The Wise (Peter Ustinov), Luther would have been lost.
Friederich protected Luther, and from what I know, what we see in the
film is accurate. Ustinov gives
an interesting interpretation of this man who was a master of achievement
through non-confrontation, sort of a 16th Century Gandhi. In
fact, except for compressing facts so they fit into the relatively short
time frame required for a movie, and other small trifles, like the Luther
quote and the depiction of Leo, this film is faithful not only in the
factual presentation of the politics, but in the presentation how people
lived 600 years ago. Luther
vividly depicts the filth and degradation of the lives of the people of the
1960s were a time that produced some of the best historical dramas.
Becket (1964), A Man For All Seasons (1966), Lion in
Winter (1968), all came within four years of each other.
Luther fits comfortably with these.
Even though the film doesnít deal with the negative aspects of
Lutherís character and life, this is a wonderful, spellbinding movie that
is as educational as it is entertaining.