The producers of this new film have sent along a review copy – for which I thank them. It is related to, but not identical with ‘Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World’ (which appeared not long ago on PBS).
Whilst the earlier film follows a more biographical path the present incarnation is more interested in focusing on Luther’s theological development. The scenes are, by and large, the same, the dialogue is essentially the same, but the talking heads and the narrator focus primarily on theological matters.
It would be fair to say that the production titled ‘Martin Luther: the Idea that Changed the World’ is aimed primarily at those wishing to understand Luther’s life and legacy, the present film is primarily aimed at those wishing to have a better understanding of Luther’s theological development and significance.
The traditional view of Luther is generally adopted, including the story of the lightning inspired abandonment of Law and the adoption of monastic life. Luther’s inner struggle with God too is highlighted. And, naturally, the nailing of the theses to the door is offered as fact without question. Which is, as we all know (or should), is simply not how things would have happened.
It is also a mark of the film’s usefulness and intelligence that Luther’s status as a sort of German superstar is on display.
In broad outline the life and thought of Luther is fairly and impressively treated in the film. The only thing, I think, that might have made it better would have been a bit of questioning of the standard interpretation. Indeed, a bit fuller discussion of Luther’s interactions with his non-Catholic opponents would have deeply enriched the presentation.
Of course one can only do so much in a film of a few hours length. And no one who has studied the life of Luther will be satisfied with everything done and left undone in this or any Luther film.
Brilliantly presented, alongside the subject matter, is the costuming and accouterments of the 16th century scenes. The actors dress as the inhabitants of Luther’s world would have dressed and the buildings reflect quite accurately the buildings Luther would have known. The printing presses used and the importance of the press for Luther’s reformatory efforts is justifiably the center of attention for a good bit of the film. Without print- there would have been no Reform. The aesthetic side of the film is simply superb. It’s a delight to watch, its scenery is a feast for the eyes.
If you watched the PBS special on Luther (as mentioned by title above), you will find much here that is similar. What is different is the focus of attention. Both films, together, give a quite full, and generally quite accurate, picture of the German Reformer. If you’re interested in Luther’s biography, watch ‘Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World’. If theology is your focus, watch the present film. And if you want to think about both aspects of Luther: his theology and his biography, watch both.