In Austria during World War II, farmer Franz Jägerstätter refuses to fight for the Nazis, bringing condemnation from the government and his fellow villagers.
A Hidden Life opens in 1939 when Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter leaves his young wife and children on their farm to train in the German army. His experience clearly leaves him distrustful of the Nazi agenda, and he returns hoping that the war will be over soon. But the war drags on, his number is called, and Jägerstätter finds himself faced with a dilemma: does he report for active duty against his conscience or refuse to report and face the political and legal repercussions?
Both Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) have a strong understanding of what faith looks like, often quoting Scripture to each other in conversation and letters. A third of the film allows for their physical interaction, with the remaining two-thirds confined to flashbacks and written correspondence, highlighting their beliefs but also their deep love for each other. While this would be theological treatise on one hand, it is also undying love story on another level beyond the modern-day romance.
There are few films which have as powerfully conveyed faith in the midst of persecution in the way that Terrence Malik’s A Hidden Life does. Comparisons can be made to The Mission, Hacksaw Ridge, and Silence, but the film’s sheer length allows for more discussion of the themes as it logs in at nearly three hours long. Audiences should be aware, if they’re unfamiliar with Malick’s work, that there is a scarcity of dialogue, an excess of mood and pensive, near lyrical action, and abundantly complex themes left for them to unpack on their own without clear answers.
Each of the characters is given some opportunity to reflect their socio-political views in regards to religion at some point or another in the film. Malick has carefully executed his direction to make it clear that everyone has to make a choice morally and theologically; no one “gets a pass” in terms of playing the middle. The stakes during World War II are absolutely clear, and Jägerstätter pays for his decisions… but so does his family.
Modern audiences should consider to what degree they believe and what their response might be in the face of persecution, as people of faith in countries around the world still suffer the way that the Jägerstätters do. Though no one knows how he or she will handle the situation until it’s actually faced, A Hidden Life shows the beauty of the Jägerstätters’ decision and challenges the audience to consider for themselves.
The Dove Take:
A slow-burning exploration of faith in the face of evil, A Hidden Life has extraordinary power, wrestling with theological ideas in a time of great unrest. While the film may not hold the attention of younger viewers, it earns Dove’s Approval for 12+ thanks to its restraint in depicting the times of Franz Jägerstätter while eagerly displaying his profound faith.