I couldn’t help thinking of this as the Lutheran The Passion of the Christ. Lee and I were both raised Lutheran, though she was in that wild-eyed sect known as the Missouri Synod … and what they were doing in Oregon I’ll never know. If I were Garrison Keillor, and if I thought this movie was worth the time and effort, I could make a lot of gently funny comparisons between the two movies. But the fact is that Passion, a movie that I absolutely loathed, is the better film. I say “film,” as a work of art, to distinguish in some way the medium from the nauseating message.
This movie is incredibly boring, and historically at least misleading. You’d think that Luther was single-handedly responsible for the Reformation, when in fact he crystallized thoughts that had been in the air for some time. Erasmus is not even mentioned. You are left with the impression that, if Luther dies, that’s it, end of story, the corrupt and venal Catholics of Rome triumph. And dramatically, one personage summed up the problem of the movie by saying this: “He’s a theologian.” Rather hard to dramatize the musings of a monk in his cell. Joseph Fiennes rants and raves and battles with Satan in a few clichéd scenes, and that’s about as good as it gets.
During the many opportunities my mind had to wander, I found myself impressed again with this thought: the real hero of the Protestant Reformation was Gutenberg. Once books could be printed in large numbers, once ordinary people and not just the hierarchy of the Church could read scriptures and interpret them for themselves, the Catholic Church was in big trouble.
And also: Is the American Revolution the only time in history where the rebels didn’t at some point take it into their heads that the old order must be entirely destroyed? Soon after the Reformation began there were mobs of peasants intent on destroying just about everything in sight. Many thousands died. You see it again and again, the destruction, the bloodbaths, from Danton and Robespierre to the Bolsheviks to that smirking mega-murderer Mao Zedong to Pol Pot. You can find a dozen examples without trying hard. It’s very sad.