Portrait of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was imprisoned and killed by the Nazis for plotting to assassinate Hitler, conveys the essence of a man and his world. Bonhoeffer's life is lyrically presented, with his friends and family shedding light on his breakaway seminary, his travels to America and Harlem, his calls to change the world for better, and his noble attempts to respond to Nazi Germany as a Christian. Written by
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
This documentary reviews the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer with the focus on the relationship between his religious beliefs and his personal actions. Factually, there's little in the movie that you could not get from Google. Bonhoeffer was one of a minority of Christian leaders in Germany who publicly and privately opposed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. What the film does is anecdotally present the growth of Bonhoeffer's theology from the conventional Lutheranism of his upbringing into a kind of social activism in which the actions of one's life are what bring one to Christ. The defining moment is when Bonhoeffer arrives in New York, intending to teach at Union Seminary, only to realize "one who believes does not flee." The film notes the irony that while Bonhoeffer did not like Reinhold Niebuhr, by the end of his life he was living the kind of social activism preached by Niebuhr.
The film itself is well-made and follows a standard documentary format, with period films, stills and interviews with surviving friends and family. Significant passages from Bonhoeffer's writing are mixed into the narrative description.
Bonhoeffer was a pastor, teacher and theologian. His life was not exciting in the conventional sense, although he did some spying against the Nazis that must have been nerve racking. And much of this film is spent relating belief and action. The question asked and answered for him was a simple one: To what extent are our actions the consequence of our beliefs? It's the question we are left to ponder for ourselves.
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