First and foremost, the one thing that I noticed about the film that it largely framed Luther’s story in the bildungsroman genre of narrative; in other words, it was very much a “coming of age” story. The film gave us a much more personal perspective on what was going on, so much that in many ways, the plot points encompassing the Reformation were effectively used to reflect Martin’s personal struggles, and vice versa. By placing Martin Luther’s story in the bildungsroman format of genre, I think we were able to get a sense of the change that both Martin and society as a whole experienced.
One way of seeing how Luther’s personal experiences in the film help give a better understanding of what exactly he going against is noticing the role of the authority figure in the movie. Even in the beginning, Luther is seen being fearful of his father, begging after him in a very similar fashion as he did to God in the opening scene. During one of the trips to Wittenberg, Luther witnesses a child being forced to do his work with the threat of punishment. It is no coincidence, I think that we immediately cut to a scene where we see Luther questioning the role of the Church in scripture. The emperor and archbishop speak for themselves in that they enforce the strict, structural view of Christianity. However, when you compare these authority figures to the Father that Luther consults with throughout the movie, there is a stark contrast in the former relationships (which are tyrannical and largely espouse master/servant sorts of dynamics) to the latter; the relationship between Luther and his Father is largely parental, mentor/mentoree, and while it does encompass a sort of hierarchy in that the Father holds a sort of seniority and authority over Luther, the relationship is very much mutually affectionate and holds a sort of love and ‘fairness’ that most of the other authority/subordinate relationships shown in the film do not hold. This could definitely be interpreted as the film’s way of showing the problems that Luther saw in the Church; the more tyrannical portrayals of authority and the fearful responses can be said to represent the colder, more judgemental vision of God that the Church seemed to convey. The relationship with the Father, on the other hand, represents what Luther felt God should be. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the first lines we see Martin speak to the Father is how he wants to follow more merciful God, and not one that he is terrified of. The fact that he speaks this right after being rejected by his father makes this more clear. In short, the portrayals of authority and the sorts of relationships they held with those under them could be said to showcase the problems of the Church and the change that Martin Luther would introduce.
One thing that the movie did that was interesting, I think, was the recurring image of a cage. In the beginning of the movie, right after Luther messes up during a service, he runs off in frustration. The shot shows him looking out a window near bird cages.
This is the establishing shot which cements Martin Luther’s character as one that feels trapped and limited, by both internal and external forces. This also cements the message that the current format of the Church is very limited and does not provide the sort of freedom that it claims to give. The fact that the cages are in front of a window gives an impression of freedom (or enlightenment) being something unattainable, far away, or simply an illusion.
This further established a couple scenes later
Again, as this is in a “coming of age” sort of film, most of the scenes get concerning Martin Luther and his journey are very much from a more personal and character oriented perspective. However, this shot not only portrays the torment and frustration that Martin feels against God and the seemingly impossible task of serving Him, but it also shows the feeling of being caged and trapped- which, while is very much Luther’s initial feelings, could also be said to portray the effect the current way of how the Church operated had on the common people. This is especially interesting when you compare these first several scenes with the buying and selling of indulgences that Martin would later come across, particularly that of the mother who wanted to buy her daughter her salvation.
But while the image of the cage and captivity is shown to be used to symbolize the feelings of entrapment and futility that Luther felt, and the heavy limitations placed on the common people, it is also shown as an image of protection. In one scene, when summoned to Augsburg, a church official asks Luther whether he wants “truth or comfort”- saying that the current structure of the Church is meant to protect Christianity and “keep it alive”, as well as in power. Not so long after, we are provided with these two images
The image of the cage here is not one of oppression or of entrapment. In the first shot, where church officials are pondering how to deal with Luther, the use of the birdcages signifies how the current structure of the Church is being used to protect them; a cage can be used to protect what is inside just as much as it can be used to keep it inside. The second shot gives off the image of bars in the structure of the building; signifying that the state to is benefiting from the “cage”.
These two uses of the image of a cage not only shows what is going in the film; it also gives us a sense of how religion was being used to simultaneously benefit those in power while largely limiting those under it. The buying and selling of indulgences is, again, one of the biggest examples given in the film.
Since Luther was not actively seeking to separate from the Church, and largely seeking to reform it instead, I don’t think we should interpret the image of cages as Martin seeking to be free from the Church itself; rather, he was seeking to be free from the constant paranoia and fear he held (which reflected in the indulgences), as well as knowing and spreading the truth.
And I guess those are my thoughts.