The title of Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life comes from a line in George Eliot’s Middlemarch: “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
The title is apt for this subject’s story. Franz Jägerstätter is probably not a familiar name to you. An Austrian farmer and devout Catholic, Jägerstätter’s faith led him to defy the Nazi regime during World War II, refusing to swear allegiance to Hitler. His unheralded and largely unremembered act of defiance—which led to his imprisonment and execution in 1943—made little sense to most people in his small Alpine village, St. Radegund. And while his story shares similarities to that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whose time in Berlin’s Tegel prison overlapped a bit with Jägerstätter’s), it’s far less known.
But as much as Malick’s film (in theaters this Friday) shines a compelling spotlight on Jägerstätter’s humble, heroic, “hidden” life, it’s even more about another “hidden” life: God. It’s a film about the challenge of steadfast faith when the one we believe in feels unseen and absent. Hebrews 11:1 is pithy and familiar—“faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”—but it’s hard to live out.
By leaning into the honest difficulty of belief, and yet clinging to hope, Malick’s A Hidden Life becomes more than just a cinematic masterpiece. It’s also a bracing apologetic for true Christian faith. As biblically inspired as any other film in recent memory (probably since Malick’s own Tree of Life in 2011—the best Christian film ever made), A Hidden Life is a psalm crying out to the God of refuge and deliverance. It’s also a cinematic sermon on the mount, envisioning the upside-down kingdom of God from a literal mountaintop (Matthew’s Gospel figures prominently). But perhaps most of all, the film is an epistle-esque prison letter of encouragement to any struggling saint whose humble prayer is, Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
When Christ Calls a Man
Malick’s A Hidden Life is a film in conversation with Martin Scorsese’s Silence. When Malick saw Silence, he apparently wrote Scorsese a letter in which he asked, “What does Christ want from us?” Both Silence and A Hidden Life are…