PG-13, for disturbing images of violence
Joseph Fiennes, Peter Ustinov, Alfred Molina,
and Claire Cox
Dennis Clauss, Kurt Rittig, Gabriela
Pfndner, and J. Daniel Nichols
Brigitte Rochow, Christian Stehr, and Alexander
Camille Thomasson and Bart Gavigan
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At one important point in the movie Luther, a wonderful, entertaining
historical drama about the life of the 16th Century Protestant reformer Martin
Luther, Luther admits to the German Emperor that he may have been too harsh
when attacking some of the Roman Catholic leaders. Later in the movie, in
fact, he realizes, and painfully regrets, that some of his actions in support
of controversial ideas have led to many deaths during the peasant revolt in
Germany, which was inspired by his writings and fed by the intemperate zealotry
of some of his supporters.
At the same time, however, the Luther presented by this movie returns several
times to the central issue that occupied his mind, and changed the world:
the primacy of God's Word, the Bible. "Unless I am convicted by Scripture
and plain reason. . . I will not recant," Luther tells the German and
Catholic authorities accusing him of heresy. "My conscience is captive
to the Word of God." For history tells us it was the demands of study
for academic degrees and preparations for delivering lectures as the teacher
of biblical theology at Wittenburg University that led Luther to study the
Scriptures in depth. His study of the Bible, the source of Christianity, convinced
him that the Church had lost sight of the central truths of the faith: Sola
The movie Luther covers the early years of Martin Luther's life, from
his days as a monk in the early 1500s to the proclamation of the Augsburg
Confession in 1530, which founded the Lutheran Church in Germany. It begins
with the thunderstorm that led Luther to cry out to St. Anne, the patron saint
of miners like his father, "Help, St. Anne! I'll become a monk."
At the monastery, Luther is wracked by guilt because he feels completely
unholy in the face of the God of Justice. His mentor orders him to pursue
an academic career to relieve the strain. Soon, however, the young theology
teacher is trying to correct the corrupt Catholic Church in Rome, whose corruption
Luther saw first-hand. He begins teaching his students and the people in Wittenburg
about the mercy and compassion of God, while complaining about the Church
selling forgiveness of sins to the people for money.
All of this angers the Pope and many of his officials, who are trying to
collect money to build St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. They charge Luther with
heresy, and the climax of the first half of the movie occurs when Luther refuses
to renounce his writings, unless convinced by Scripture.
Joseph Fiennes does an excellent job of portraying this revolutionary historical
figure, whose Protestant Reformation clearly led to the founding of America
and the establishment of representative government in both England and the
United States. Although he appears to be a bit too thin and young by the end
of the movie, there are surviving portraits of Luther from the early 1520s
when most of Luther takes place which approximate Fiennes' features.
Supporting Mr. Fiennes, as Luther's supporter, Prince Frederick the Wise,
is the legendary, always enjoyable Peter Ustinov, star of such classic historical
movies as Spartacus and the great Quo Vadis.
Director Eric Till, who also did the Movieguide Award-winning TV program
"Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace," does a marvelous job of capturing
the settings and atmosphere of 16th Century Germany and Italy. The movie is
engrossing throughout, even though the high points and climax in the second
half of the movie don't match the powerful drama of the scenes where Luther
refuses to recant.
Movieguide can find little or nothing wrong, factually speaking, with
the historical portrayal of this part of Luther's life, but Luther
is told from a Lutheran, Protestant viewpoint. Hence, the movie may offend
Roman Catholics, especially when Luther cracks some jokes about the Catholic
leaders he opposes, including Pope Leo X. The ending of the movie also has
one cardinal complaining, at Leo's death, that, if Leo had been more like
Luther, perhaps Roman Catholicism could have been reformed. Of course, after
Leo's death, the Catholic Church did indeed undergo reform within the movement
known as the Counter-Reformation.
Luther clearly shows that Martin Luther's career led to an increased
respect for the mercy of God and the importance of God's Word, the Bible.
It also informs viewers, in an end credit, that Luther helped spread a new
understanding of religious freedom throughout Europe. This is true, but only
to a certain extent, because, for the next 150 years or so after Luther's
death, Europe was gripped by religious wars in the wake of the Protestant
Reformation. In other words, a schism in a church can be an awful thing, especially
when it leads to violence, although we are called by Scripture to stand for
the Truth when absolutely required.
Regrettably, the movie says little about the other great foundation of Lutheran
and Protestant belief - that each and every Christian is saved, and justified
or declared righteous, by God's grace through faith, not by works. This is
a failing in Luther, even though the movie correctly and boldly stresses
faith in God through Jesus Christ.
In the final analysis, Luther is must watching, because it shows,
in a compelling and dramatic fashion, how Luther's faith in God changed the
history of the world. Luther is an entertaining, powerful portrait
of the Truth that people of all faiths will appreciate and enjoy. It is one
of the best movies of 2003.
NOTE from Dr. Ted Baehr, publisher of Movieguide Magazine: For more information
from a Christian perspective, order the latest Movieguide Magazine by
calling 1-800-899-6684(MOVI) or visit our website at www.movieguide.org.
Movieguide is dedicated to redeeming the values of Hollywood by informing
parents about today's movies and entertainment and by showing media executives
and artists that family-friendly and even Christian-friendly movies do best
at the box office year in and year out. Movieguide now offers an online
subscription to its magazine version, at www.movieguide.org.
The magazine, which comes out 25 times a year, contains many informative articles
and reviews that help parents train their children to be media-wise consumers.
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