Luther: The real monk

Oct. 8, 2003, midnight | By Samir Paul | 20 years, 9 months ago

Shunned by The Man, disdained by The Establishment and held back by The Machine, he was the quintessential rebel, striking a blow for revolution and challenging structure and convention wherever he saw fit. You could call him a nonconformist, or even a cowboy, unrelenting in his pursuit of truth.

This description conjures up images of James Dean donning his famed red windbreaker or of Socrates traveling through Athens and questioning aristocratic young citizens. Here, however, stereotypes fall flat. This man was not a ranger, a lawman, a scientist, a criminal, or even a drifter. He was a monk.

Based on actual events, Luther tells the captivating story of the movie's namesake and his quest to cleanse the Church of its sins. In sixteenth century Germany, young maverick monk Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes) embarks on a trip to Rome, the seat of the then-all powerful Roman Catholic Church. Upon arrival, he is appalled by the corruption and vice of the city. All around him he sees priests soliciting prostitutes, vendors peddling Christian relics to make a buck off of the common man's religious sympathies, and the Catholic Church selling salvation for a modest fee.

When Luther returns to his congregation, he proceeds to nail his 95 Theses of Reformation to the church's door. The disillusioned monk's complaints spread like wildfire, initiating an immense game of tug of war with the Catholic Church.

Luther is the lovechild of a history text and a soap opera. And the funny thing is, it works pretty well.

Director Eric Till's portrayal of Luther evokes empathy and admiration, and he is shown at both immense fortitude and utter vulnerability. Fiennes gives a commanding performance of a man who takes on the most powerful organization in the world with ferocity, tenacity, and just a tinge of sorrow that his conscience forces him to do what he must. The almost obsessive devotion to his work that Fienne's Luther shows is reminiscent of Fienne's role as Danilov, the fervent Russian propaganda officer, in Enemy at the Gates (2001).

The supporting characters shines as well. Most notable are Johann von Staupiz (Bruno Ganz) and Prince Frederick (Peter Ustinov), two of Luther's most staunch supporters. The Prince and Luther's father provide what comic relief exists in this film, periodically interjecting with tension-relieving tidbits of wry humor. Not as strong, however, is Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Toren Liebrecht). Liebrecht primarily comes across as a whiny teenager whose parents won't let him go out with his friends, rather than the war-mongering emperor that Charles V was.

Though Till's protagonists and most of his antagonists are well-rounded, the characterization of the upper-echelons of the Catholic Church falls short. In an attempt to clearly draw the lines between good and evil, Till demonizes the Church, unfairly painting a picture of power-hungry pigs rather than including some level of deference to their adherence to old Church doctrine. "This little German monk is intoxicated with himself," menaces one higher-up in the Church. "Sober him."

Characters aside, the score and the camerawork intertwine seamlessly. Pastoral music accompanying wide-angled shots of the peaceful German countryside becomes imperceptibly becomes grimmer and more daunting as pillars of smoke slowly billow from riots in a nearby town. A disturbing but serene scene in which Luther performs the last rites on a dead girl in a ransacked church is set to the backdrop of chamber music a capella, and as a ray of light shines through a broken stained glass window, the music shifts from a depressing lament to an uplifting chorus.

Enthralling and irresistible, Luther is a captivating analytical narrative of the people and events that radically transformed European social structures and religious ideals. Watching a hardcore, rebellious, don't-take-no-guff-from-nobody monk strike a blow for religious freedom in such a tight and well-polished film is more than worth the seven dollars that you'll pay to see the film.

Luther is rated PG-13 for disturbing images of violence.

Samir Paul. <b>Samir Paul</b>, a Magnet senior, spent the better part of his junior year at Blair brooding over everyone's favorite high-school publication and wooing Room 165's menopausal printer. He prides himself in being <i>THE</i> largest member of Blair Cross Country and looks forward to one more … More »

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