Armed with little more than his beliefs and quick wit, Martin Luther, a young 16th century monk driven by outrage, confronts the Medieval Church, fostering a new era of personal and religious freedoms.

(2003) Film Review by Paul McCain

This page was created on September 3, 2003
This page was last updated on May 29, 2005


—Review
David's Interview with Dennis Clauss
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CREDITS

Click to enlargeDirected by Eric Till
Screenplay by Bart Gavigan and Camille Thomasson

Cast - in credits order
Joseph Fiennes ... Martin Luther
Alfred Molina ... Johann Tetzel
Jonathan Firth ... Girolamo Aleandro
Claire Cox ... Katharina von Bora
Peter Ustinov ... Friedrich
Bruno Ganz ... Johann von Staupitz
Uwe Ochsenknecht ... Pope Leo XII
Mathieu Carrière ... Cardinal Cajetan
Marco Hofschneider ... Ulrick
Torben Liebrecht ... Charles V.
Other credited cast listed alphabetically
Herb Andress ... Gunter
James Babson ... Dominican Monk
Jeff Caster ... Matthew
Cesare Cremonini ... Guardian Monk
Jens Winter ... Fugger auditor

Production Managers
Massimo Iacobis ... production manager: Italy
Michal Prikryl ... production manager: Prague
Sabine Renger ... assistant unit manager
Peter Schiller ... production manager
Imke Sommerkamp ... unit manager

Original Music by Richard Harvey
Cinematography by Robert Fraisse
Editored by Clive Barrett



Rated PG 13
For rating reasons, go to FILMRATINGS.COM, and MPAA.ORG.
Parents, please refer to PARENTALGUIDE.ORG

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SYNOPSIS
Click to enlargeArmed with little more than his beliefs and quick wit, Martin Luther, a young 16th century monk driven by outrage, confronts the Medieval Church. While he is not always cognizant of the far-reaching repercussions of his actions, he ultimately helps usher in the Reformation, fostering a new era of personal and religious freedoms.

While a young law student, Luther abruptly changes course and joins the Augustinian order of monks when he believes his life is spared during a violent lightning storm. His ambitious father is infuriated, and thus Luther turns to a spiritual mentor, Father Johann von Staupitz (BRUNO GANZ). Luther proves an eager, apt disciple and Staupitz selects Luther to join the monastery’s contingent of monks leaving for Rome on church business. He enters the city with the wide-eyed ideals of a young man--only to have them shattered. Depravity is everywhere.

Here, Luther learns about "indulgences." With these Vatican sponsored certificates, people may buy salvation for a fee and free themselves or deceased relatives from eternal damnation. The young friar brands this the highest form of cynicism and profiteering and asks, “Is not salvation accessible to all?”

Luther is sent to study at the new university in Wittenberg and later becomes a professor of theology. Among his staunch supporters is Prince Frederick the Wise (PETER USTINOV), who admires Luther’s courage of conviction--even though the monk’s vociferous opinions are beginning to cause ripples.

In Rome, the new pope, Leo X, has mandated that funds be raised to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica. The huge financial undertaking is to be financed by the sales of indulgences. The premiere “marketer” of indulgences, Brother John Tetzel (ALFRED MOLINA), preaches to a large German crowd about the hell fire awaiting their wretched souls should they forego this new “special indulgence.”

Luther is incensed at such naked manipulation, inspiring him to write his 95 Theses, an essay he nails to the local church’s door. His writing is reproduced via the new Guttenberg printing press and, within weeks, his criticism of the Church is being read throughout Europe.

The Pope reacts angrily. Luther is to recant his heretical writings or face excommunication, trial by Inquisition and, likely, death. As David before Goliath, he refuses to recant. While his works are inciting popular support among the masses, the Church moves to silence him, permanently. He takes refuge with Prince Frederick, and thus becomes an outlaw for the remainder of his life.

The stage is set for an unprecedented confrontation as Luther is increasingly seen as a popular icon. A schism rips at the heart of the Church as the new “Protestant” movement surges among the populace. Soon, hundreds of thousands pay the price of their rebellion with their lives. Ultimately, Luther’s followers break with Rome, and its hold over the social, political and religious lives of all Europe is vulnerable for the first time in its history.

From this point, Western Civilization develops new attitudes about religion and social order that eventually change the world forever.

RS Entertainment presents “LUTHER,” starring Joseph Fiennes, Alfred Molina, Jonathan Firth, Claire Cox, Sir Peter Ustinov, Bruno Ganz, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Mathieu Carrière and Benjamin Sadler in an NFP Teleart Production. Eric Till is the director; Camille Thomasson and Bart Gavigan are the screenwriters; Dennis Clauss, Kurt Rittig, Gabriela Pflindner and J. Dan Nichols are executive producers; Brigitte Rochow, Christian P. Stehr and Alexander Thies are producers. Robert Fraisse is the director of photography; Clive Barrett is the film editor; Roif Zehetbauer is the production designer; Ulla Gothe is the costume designer; Hasso von Hugo is the make-up supervisor; and Richard Harvey the composer.
REVIEW BY PAUL McCAIN
(paul.mccain@cph.org)
A LUTHERAN POINT OF VIEW

The lights go down and the screen stays black. The pounding noise of thunder grows louder. The screen flashes with a burst of lightning, and we see a man running across an open field. Bolts of lightning crash all around. The man falls face down in mud, crying out in terror, "Save me, St. Anne. I'll become a monk. Save me! Save me!"

So begins Luther, the new movie on the life of the Reformer. After the storm, we see Luther as a monk, and then the movie moves to Luther celebrating his first mass, trembling in fear at the moment of consecrating the elements of Holy Communion. The movie continues with scene after scene in the life of the younger Luther.

The years covered are July 1505 to June 1530. This is the greatest challenge for the movie. It may also be a chief criticism of it. How is it possible to fit these twenty-five tumultuous years into a space of less than two hours? Is there too much to make sense? What has to be left out? One can only imagine the agonizing decisions that had to be made in the process.

Click to enlargeThe movie is stunning, dramatic, powerful, and beautiful. For a Lutheran, the movie is intensely emotional. The movie takes a few liberties with the sequence of certain events and even some details, for the sake of making sense out of things for the viewer. Where the movie does portray an actual event and relate actual details, the level of fidelity to the actual history is remarkable and powerful.

Click to enlargeThe acting is very well done by the lead, Joseph Fiennes, who portrays Luther as a young monk, gaunt from his monastic life, profoundly intense and passionate about the spiritual care of souls, both his own and others. Those who play supporting roles in the film do a very fine job. All are very authentic and believable, communicating through voice and expression, the entire range of human experience.

Does the Gospel come through in this movie? Absolutely, yes. Would I have appreciated more? Yes, absolutely. Let me hasten to add that it was breathtaking to hear the Gospel come through as clearly as it did, when it did. A major Hollywood distributor said that he loved the movie and wanted to distribute it, except for one condition. He asked for all the "Christ stuff" to be taken out. It wasn't. Thank goodness.

Click to enlargeThe movie shows Luther's progress in realizing how, in Christ, God is a loving heavenly Father, not the harsh judge who is appeased only though a Christian's works. I would have appreciated a bit more than what the movie did, but I can not help but be thankful for the Gospel that is in the movie. There is no question that it is Christ whom Luther discovered.

Click to enlargeLuther does a marvelous job portraying the problems of the church in the 16th century; the scenes of Luther's visit to Rome and then the selling of indulgences by Tetzel are absolutely brilliant. They use a fictitious woman and her child to bring home the personal impact of the sale of indulgences and Luther's very pastoral response.

Click to enlargeThe costumes, location work, and cinema photography are stunning. The historical accuracy is also impressive. For example, Lucas Cranach's paintings are seen in the elector's palace. The relics on display are very authentic-looking; the costumes show the stark contrast between the "haves" and the "have-nots." Those who are aware of these details will appreciate the depth of detail in the movie. The movie was filmed on many locations throughout Europe and therefore has a level of realism and authenticity that is very impressive.

The movie shows Luther's multifaceted personality, warts and all.
The depth of his spiritual anguish is shown in disturbing reality as he writhes in spiritual, emotional and mental torment, contemplating a God whom He can never make love Him and a Devil constantly seeking to devour him. It is painful to watch. But then we see the bold, confident man of faith, clinging to the Word, standing up courageously for what the Word of God teaches about Christ and salvation. The movie ends with a dramatic portrayal of the courage of the princes of the German territories at Augsburg informing Emperor Charles V of their decision to defend the teachings of Luther.

Click to enlargeLuther has been assigned the rating of PG-13. The scenes of death in the movie are graphic. There are no battle sequences, but the results of the peasant war are graphically presented, along with several images of hangings. This is not a movie for younger children, nor should it be. The portrayal of violence is necessary to show just how powerful an impact the results of Luther's work and its misinterpretation were.

This reviewer left the movie theater inspired, uplifted and profoundly moved by the power of this movie. It encouraged me to dig more deeply into Luther's writings, and Luther biographies. It brought many aspects of the man Luther to life and lifted him from a cold printed page to a living, human reality.

Luther will be released this fall, September 26, in 300 theatres, in 55 major urban areas across the country, with more to come following throughout the rest of the year.

David's Interview with Producer Dennis Clauss

Reviw by MIKE FURCHES
mike@furches.org
Web sitewww.furches.org


Mike is the Senior Pastor at United at the Cross Community Church in Wichita Kansas. United at the Cross is a church made up of individuals not often accepted in other churches. The church consists of former gang members, drug addicts, prostitutes and others. Mike also speaks nationally on various topics and is a freelance writer. To learn more about Mike and his ministry link onto www.furches.org. In the arts Mike has worked with top music artists such as Steppenwolf, Marshall Tucker Band, Kansas and has an active interest in film.
AN ANABAPTIST POINT OF VIEW

With recent headlines about the Passion movie by Mel Gibson and comments regarding Anti-Semitism one would have to wonder where all of the hoopla has been regarding the release of Luther starring Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther. After all, the Christian Church has had its own history of not getting along and this film helps rekindle those memories. Despite this film trying to cover too much territory and leaving out important historical facts, it is still worthwhile. Certain facts left out include the fact that other individuals had issues with the Holy Roman Catholic Church and its need for reform. Facts such as Luther's own mandates against fellow believers such as another reformer lead by Menno Simmons and his decree that those who followed Anabaptist Theology, (Adult and believers baptism) should be declared heretics and issued a third baptism which lead to the drowning of thousands of Anabaptists. The unfortunate fact is that many of the martyrs during the Reformation took place at the direction of Martin Luther yet the movie never addresses this issue of his humanity. These things said, the importance of his teachings and writings on the time cannot, nor should they, be ignored. Luther is well worth seeing, even for an Anabaptist like me who is well aware of the history of our Martyrs, (i.e. Foxes Book of Martyrs.)

This film starts out quite interestingly covering the calling of Luther into the church and adequately shows his later conversion to follow Jesus Christ. I certainly appreciated the fact that the movie covered the issue, which is the difference between following the teachings of the church and the teachings of Christ. In one poignant scene his mentor Father Staupitz played wonderfully by Bruno Ganz has Luther holding on to a crucifix that has been placed in his hands and him being told to essentially, follow Jesus and turn his life over to Christ. It is an important moment in the film and one wonderfully portrayed.

What we see, and what I appreciated in this film is the humanity and conviction of the man Martin Luther. He has serious issues with the relics being offered by the church, relics that included for example 18,000 nails that were used to nail Christ to the cross, and thorns that had been in the crown of thorns and used to pierce the head of Christ. Luther's passion on these issues comes about after he observes and feels compassion for individuals who purchase indulgences from the church to obtain salvation for themselves and/or their loved ones. Luther knows that salvation comes only through Christ and has issues early on with the teachings of the church. Other issues that Luther takes on is the importance of getting the Word of God into the hands of everyday people in language they can understand. It was this facet of the movie that most moved me.

The work of Luther to get the Bible into the hands of everyday people and the recollection of the time that the Bible was not readily available makes this movie not only worth seeing, but in many ways a must for individuals to see. The reality of it is that people, including Luther went through a great deal of persecution and even death to get God's Word into the hands of people so they could interpret the Bible for themselves. This significant fact regarding Luther is non-deniable and in many ways, he was an original Rebel fighting for the rights of the common person.

Luther was avid about certain facts like not including James in the Holy Scripture, another fact that the movie conveniently ignores. After seeing the movie, while not agreeing with his belief, you can understand his reasoning for being so insistent that the book of James not be included in the text of Scripture. With all of the inconsistencies in the church at the time, and its emphasis on earning ones way into Heaven, one can better understand why it was that Luther was so concerned that the message of Christ's Grace was emphasized. Grace and relationship with God was essential for all people, Luther fought for that understanding at a great cost, and this movie helps illustrate those facts and realities.

From a movie making perspective, the reality is that too much of a time period was covered and as a result character development and plot suffer. Without an understanding of the role of Luther in history, one seeing this movie might easily get lost. I will also disagree with many recommending that smaller children not see this movie. The truth is that there are some graphic scenes in the movie but for many those were not scenes but realities in life. While much of that persecution was at the hands of the "Church" and at one point of time, actually endorsed by Luther, the messages of our own nasty history and the honesty in covering that will do more harm if we cover it up than it will if we discuss it from an early onset, even with children. While I would not recommend the movie for smaller children, they will get bored; I would recommend it for those who can discuss the issues. I have known of some 10 year olds who can and then I have known of some 20 year olds who can't. The topics and messages are definitely worthy of discussion though.

One example of how character development suffers is in the lack of development with several characters that I would have personally liked to have known more about and who were portrayed in a powerful way. Those characters included Grete and Hanna, a mother and daughter who lived in poverty and were a part of the Wittenberg Church, as well as his wife, Katerina yon Bore, played beautifully for what short time she is on screen by Claire Cox. I must also comment on the character Prince Fredrick the Wise played brilliantly by Sir Peter Ustinov. Here we see a character that despite his own beliefs allows himself to be moved by conviction and truth. In many ways this character had the most to loose by Luther's teachings yet was the first and most willing to give up the things that he held in high regard. While I have been wrong in the past about my predictions Ustinov will at the very least have to be considered for a supporting role come award time.

The truth is that while the film takes some liberties, it is still worth seeing for the historical relevance. The truth is that I don't believe it has enough to draw the interest of those outside of the Christian community, and that is a shame. It is a shame because Luther is a well-done movie with enough historical accuracy that we can easily see how much of an impact he had on our world. We see his passion, his madness, and his convictions. We see a human who was led by a risen Christ and was thus able to make a difference to the world around him, all of his shortcomings and all.

On a scale of 1 -10 Luther is a deserving, religious, 7.

David's Interview with Producer Dennis Clauss

Click to enlarge
Grete (Doris Prusova) and Hanna (Maria Simon) members of the congregation in Wittenberg.
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Grete (Doris Prusova) under the watchful eye of her mother Hanna (Maria Simon) attempts to walk to Luther (Joseph Fiennes).
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Luther (Joseph Fiennes) discovers children killed in a church during the Peasants' War.
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Luther (Joseph Fiennes) prays with other pilgrims on the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) in Rome.
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Luther (Joseph Fiennes) is confronted by Father Staupitz (Bruno Ganz) after arguing with Rome's representatives.
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Philip Melancthon (Lars Rudolph) with the princes of Germany before Emperor Charles V.
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Luther's protege Philip Melancthon (Lars Rudolph).
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Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Torben Liebrecht).
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Court secretary George Spalatin (Benjamin Sadler).
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Professor Andreas Carlstadt (Jochen Horst).
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