Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life is a Beautiful, Taxing Tale of WWII Sacrifice

Alice Oscura – Featured Writer

A Hidden Life, written and directed By Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line, The New World), is based on the true story of an Austrian farmer named Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his refusal to fight for the Nazis during WWII and to swear his allegiance to Hitler.

Jägerstätter was born in Sankt Radegund, a small village in Austria. He became a deeply devout Catholic after marrying Franziska Schwaninger and the couple had three daughters. He was first drafted on June 17, 1940 but was temporarily exempted due to being a farmer. Unfortunately, he was called to active duty on the February 23, 1943 at the age of 36 and upon entering the Wehrmacht garrison in Enns on March 1, he was arrested for refusing to take the “Hitler Oath” and refusing to fight in battle. He instead offered to serve as a paramedic and was denied.

Although a priest from his village had visited him during his incarceration to try and discourage him from his path, he became determined when he heard of the execution of a priest named Father Franz Reinisch for his refusal as well to take the “Hitler Oath”. Jägerstätter was officially sentenced after a military trial held in Berlin on July 6, 1943. He was eventually sent to Brandenburg-Görden Prison on 9 August where he was executed via the guillotine.

Jägerstätter’s sacrifice was not well known until a sociologist from the United States named Gordon Zahn published his biography in 1964. Over the years his story was told in print and on television, but it wasn’t until 2007 that Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic exhortation declaring Jägerstätter a martyr. On October 26, 2007, he was beatified in a ceremony held by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins at the New Cathedral in Linz. His feast day is the day of his baptism, May 21.

Do you have what it takes to stand up for what you believe in even if it means a certain death? I definitely can’t say this for myself, but history has shown that many a person has met with their death due to varying beliefs. I have to admit to you guys that while watching the film I became extremely frustrated at one point with Jägerstätter’s character because I kept seeing his wife suffering and struggling to maintain the farm and raise three young girls on her own. I kept thinking – doesn’t he know that he is leaving his wife and kids in a precarious situation by sacrificing himself for his ideals? Why can’t he just play by the rules, suffer in silence until the war is over? But, how can I ask that of him? Isn’t the real lesson here to stand up for your beliefs no matter the consequences because it is better to have that peace of mind with yourself and your God? It is an extremely difficult situation to find yourself in and not become a sellout.

Come to think of it, there are many reports of German citizens forced to become Nazi spies and soldiers because the lives of their families were threatened. You have to ask yourself what would you do if you were faced with this decision, and what effect will it have on your family if you refuse? The film really gets you thinking, and it also highlights another unsung hero from WWII that I am quite sure most people are not aware of.

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The film’s run time is three hours so make sure that you’ve got the time to spare before watching this one. It can become a bit emotionally taxing so be warned – do not watch this if you are already in a dark place. However, the quality of the cinematography is excellent. There are so many beautiful back drops in the countryside displaying the mountains poking up through the mist and the lush greenery of the farms in the village including the trees and vegetation. In the scenes where Jägerstätter, his wife and family were in happier times it is fulfilling to see them working hard, reaping the rewards of their labor, and looking lovingly into each other’s eyes as they hold hands whilst laying in the grass. There are many shots like this during the majority of the film. However, the film gets considerably darker in the change of the atmosphere when he becomes more conflicted and he gets arrested. The weather changes and there is an absence of greenery and light. More mud and dirt are highlighted along with increased difficulty in getting tasks done at the farm and his wife and children being ostracised due to his actions.

The lead actors August Diehl (Jägerstätter) and Valerie Pachner (his wife, Frani) have excellent onscreen chemistry with each other, and their portrayal is extremely touching. The film is not meant to romanticise sacrifice but to teach us that we need to stick to our faith and not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in. On the other hand, no one should be forced to do something against their will and no one should have that much power in their hands.

Alice’s Score: 7.5 out of 10

For my review of World War II film Resistance Fighter and real life Polish hero Jan Nowak-Jeziorański you can click here. And for more historical film reviews you can follow Redmangoreviews on Facebook here. 

39AFB96D-4DEF-4DED-8DFE-3400E758CE9B Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump.

I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. You can find me as Dark Alice Reviews on Facebook, my Instagram is alice_oscura and my Twitter handle is @lise_veliz2. For more on me you can click here.

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