A few days ago Alan Jacobs published a remarkable essay on Terence Malick’s critically-acclaimed historical drama, A Hidden Life (2019). Much of the piece focuses on explaining why Franz Jägerstätter’s refusal to join the Nazi army on grounds of faith is a mystery to many modern viewers. There are also gentle rebuttals of critics who, in Jacobs’ opinion, fail to understand the story the film is telling. What struck me most, however, was this closing reflection on another mystery, the mystery of hope:
But the film holds another [mystery], and this may require still more courage to portray. “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” The film ends not with Franz’s death, but with Fani’s devastated grief for him; and as she weeps and rails—and tries to learn to face a life raising her children without her beloved husband in a village that has almost unremittingly scorned him and, because of him, has shunned her and her daughters—she takes desperate hold on her own faith. She receives, or by some inexplicable strength of will conjures up, a vision. And this is not merely the usual hope for being reunited with one’s departed loved ones, though it contains that: it is, rather, a vision of the New Creation, the καινὴ κτίσις, the restoration of all that has been defaced, all that has been shattered, by the evil of men. It is, in the closing moments of the film, a confession of trust in the promise of the scarred and wounded King who sits upon the throne he has in agony gained and says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
I have not suffered nearly to the extent Franz and Fani did, and probably never will, yet the emotions described are ones I have tasted recently: “devastated grief”; “weeps and rails”; “tries to learn to face a life raising her children without her beloved [spouse]”; “takes desperate hold on her own faith.” And the main force which has carried me through the thicket is precisely this hope which Jacobs describes, and which, evidently, Malick attempts to portray with his directorial skill: that this is not the end, that all wrongs will be righted, that there will be a restoration of all good things lost, that there will be total justice and love, that infinite happiness awaits. That hope can seem like a mirage when slogging through the agony of the now, but that is why it is so important to keep wrapping one’s fingers around it—to reflect on it and sing about it and rehearse its beauty, so that it sinks down into one’s inner being. As Fani glimpses a restored world where everything sad comes untrue, she is able to trust God in the midst of the most intense sorrow and grief. I think it’s worth adding that another part of this mystery is that it takes not only an extraordinary act of the will to cling to such a vision, but, as those who follow Jesus would say, equally (if not more so) an act of divine grace.