A Hidden Life (2019) Analysis – Cinema that creates Admirers not Followers


Does war have a face? Is it righteous enough to put the blame on a single person, single association or a single propaganda? Because when you talk of collective terms, it comprises of people who might support or not support the idea of herd ideology. Sure Hitler popularized the propaganda of Nazism and many Germans supported it, but is every German needs to be blamed? No, because there were millions who opposed his doctrines. Millions whose stories remain “hidden.” Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, is the true story of one such diligent objector of Hitler’s Nazism, that demands to be told. 

A Hidden Life clocks around three hours, and acquires the same pace, as Malick’s earlier films like The Tree of Life had. It combines his brilliant approach to film-making with philosophical moments, coated with stylistic elements of fast cut montages and voice overs. What is peculiar in this venture, is a World War II story and a more popular subject around which Malick has weaved an extraordinarily true story.

The Story

A Hidden Life begins with a montage that establishes Hitler coming to power in 1939. However, the scene just establishes dark clouds that are going to rain over the life of protagonist Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl).

Franz is a modest farmer, who lives in the small German Alpine village of St. Radegund with his wife Franziska, nicknamed “Fani” (Valerie Pancher), and their younger daughters, making a simple living as a farmer. Franz is called upon to serve in the German Army but in his first admission, he doesn’t indulge in combat. Dark days start when Franz is called again in 1943 at which point Nazi Army has shown the true nature of it’s origin to the world, killing millions and undertaking campaign of genocides, that every German is aware of.

Franz, a man with ideals stuck deep down in his soul decides that his conscience won’t permit him to serve in combat. He objects to war but to say no to a propaganda is not an easy endeavor, and involves much psychological impact both on the character and people around him, which Malick portrays with masterly, giving us a piercing sense of what it costs Franz. 

Internal chaos and agony is apparently visible in his marriage too, where Fani who is an apolitical person, suggests Franz not to put into action the values he’s proud of having. If Franz sticks to his ethics,  he’ll end up in jail, tortured, maybe dead, depriving Fani of a husband, their children of a father, and the household of income, thus exposing the remains of his family to public torture who worship Hitler like a God-figure.

Terrence Malick Approach to A Hidden Life

Terrence Malick’s style to film-making as seen in almost all his films involve the use of fast cut montages layered with voice overs that visualizes and narrates the internal agonies of a character. The same technique is used in A Hidden Life as well,  where Franz who isn’t particularly extroverted or verbose, talks to himself throughout. His internal chaos echoes on screen whenever he stands perplexed at situations like refusing to serve in the German army, swearing a loyalty oath to Hitler, or responding in kind when people said “Heil Hitler” to him on the road. As a result, his internal voice and trauma keeps elevating until the consequences of his idealism.

The same technique is used for his wife Fani and other characters, who think, or are giving a thought to the theme of the film, that is, do they believe in what they are fighting for?

Franz’s confusion can be traced in his own lines that if God has given us free will then we should be free to make choices as well. The confound that traumatizes him is visualized by Mallick through a series of montages and hard hitting voice overs, without which we couldn’t have been able to know Franz so well enough.

Franz Jägerstätter

Franz Jägerstätter – the character might be inspired by Franz Reinisch, a Priest who was murdered for refusing to abide by Hitler’s rule. 

If Franz’s story would have been a simple one, demonstrated by any populous director, it could have easily be traced as Franz against the Nazi Regime, but it isn’t one such film. Franz is not a larger than life hero, he is a common man, not supported by anyone in the whole film, and thus we know what fate he is going to meet. He is much more realistic as a character in this inhumane world, where little hope is left for people who refuse to go with the flow of stupidity.

We see other villagers trying to talk Franz into giving up, and there’s often a hint that his willingness to suffer makes them feel guilt about their preference for comfort. At a point, Franz discusses his confusion with a local priest, who suggests him not to oppose the state, as most religious leaders support Hitler, but even in his tone there is a hint, that he doesn’t grant his support to the dictator by free will. The same can be heard in the lines, “You hear those church bells? They are melting them for Bullets.

Thus, in a series of inspiring and thought provoking scenes, Franz discusses his situation with his close ones but everywhere Franz turns, he encounters people who agree with him and say they support him but can’t or won’t be able to do that publicly as they will have to yield the adversities of Nazi Tide too.

What makes this story an epic is the extraordinary attention that is given to Protagonist’s choices, without making him a Hero Figure. He continues to deal with the realistic conflict along with his daily chorus, that give us a sense of how personal political struggles are integrated into the ordinariness of life.

A Hidden Life is a sad tormenting act that plays tragically. It is philosophical in each word spoken with or without words, and mere words wouldn’t be able to state the amount of questions it generates in the mind of it’s viewers. However, it isn’t a fast food cinema for an audience unaware of their own consciences and thus will only fulfill your quench, if you will give it your full attention. There is a line in the film between the painter and Franz, that concludes what importance this kind of film holds in popular culture. 

“What we do (as Artists) is create Sympathy. We Create Admirers. We don’t create Followers.”

A Hidden Life is streaming on Disney+Hotstar.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 8 years, majorly writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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