Biography of Martin Luther, the 16th-century priest who led the Christian Reformation and opened up new possibilities in exploration of faith. The film begins with his vow to become a monk, and continues through his struggles to reconcile his desire for sanctification with his increasing abhorrence of the corruption and hypocrisy pervading the Church's hierarchy. He is ultimately charged with heresy and must confront the ruling cardinals and princes, urging them to make the Scriptures available to the common believer and lead the Church toward faith through justice and righteousness. Written by
When Frederick the Wise is directing Spalatin on how to respond to the summons for Luther from the Cardinal, he talks about letting the "inertia" of the situation take its course. Presumably this conversation takes place on, or around, 1518 (and certainly before the Diet of Worms in 1521), however, the term "inertia" was first used by Johannes Kepler in works published from 1618 to 1621 nearly 100 years later. See more »
The title of Bryan Adams' song "Can't Stop This Thing We Started" aptly describes this 2003 retelling of the story of Martin Luther. The film basically depicts Luther as a good Catholic, loyal to the Pope but horrified by the scandals and corruption that plagued the 16th century Church. He is even more horrified when his effort to reform the Church gets out of control, is co-opted for political purposes, and becomes a popular revolution with the attendant carnage and bloodshed.
I suspect Luther has been highly romanticized here. For one thing, the film follows him from age 34 to 50, yet (as embodied by the angelically handsome Joseph Fiennes) he never ages a day. His relationship with Katharina von Bora seems astonishingly chaste -- no struggle with the lusts of the flesh for this pious monk! His demons are of a different kind. We see scenes where Luther seems plagued by demons, thrashing about in his cell, hearing unseen voices. (I know Luther was manic-depressive, but I hardly think he was a madman.)
The film provides a good summary or outline of the major events of Luther's life and times: the selling of indulgences, the Ninety-Five Theses nailed to the door of Wittenberg Church, the Diet of Worms (a council presided over by Emperor Charles V), the Confession of Augsburg. The costumes accurately reflect historical reality. If I have any quarrel with the film in this regard, it is that it does not adequately mirror a key factor in the struggle between Germany and Rome: the principle of "cuius regio, eius religio". In other words, local princes and kings imposed their own religious beliefs on the peoples they governed.
The cast is a constellation of stars, veritable luminaries, including Sir Peter Ustinov in one of his last roles as Frederick of Saxony. The actors are uniformly excellent in their roles, and the dialogue is well written. The photography is somewhat static, leading me to believe this film was made with television in mind -- albeit of the highbrow kind, in the Masterpiece Theatre tradition.
Still, if anyone asked me if I recommended "Luther", I would reply as he did at the Diet of Worms: "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."
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