206 of 210 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2006
I recently purchased this DVD from Amazon, because I'm a fan of Director Eric Till's great movie "Luther". To be honest, I had never even heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer before and I knew very little about the underground German resistance to Adolf Hitler in WW2. Till's movie raises an interesting dilemma, what is a religious person who believes that our elected leaders were placed over us by God do in a time savage immorality? Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Minister, could have fled Germany to safety; but instead, chose to actively oppose Hitler. I was amazed at how Bonhoeffer kept his faith in his Savior, Jesus Christ, while his world was crumbling around him. Till's effort portrays a man who continued to minister to the needs of others while others would have quit -- myself included. Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace won the Best Film Award at the Monte Carlo Television Festival in 2000. I highly recommend this movie.
134 of 139 people found the following review helpful
This made-for-TV movie quietly made an appearance on PBS several years ago and then disappeared, but may now be kicking around on the
shelf at your local library, or just maybe at your video store. You'd do well to look and see if you can find it, because in its unassuming way it
is a powerful exploration of the particular duty of good people when evil prevails and a testament to the life and death of one remarkable man.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a leading Protestant theologian who returned home to Germany from the United States when World War II began,
writing to Reinhold Niebuhr :
I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany.
Once home, though a pacifist, he reluctantly became involved in various anti-Nazi activities, eventually even participating in a plot to
assassinate Hitler, which obviously failed. He justified this course of action because :
I believe it is worse to be evil than to do evil.
Bonhoeffer was arrested on April 5, 1943, but when authorities could not determine how deeply involved he was, they simply held him without
charges or trial and it seemed possible he eventually might be released. During his time in prison, he wrote a series of remarkable, often
heartbreaking, letters. If Anne Frank affects us with her innocence and our sense of a life unlived, Bonhoffer first saddens us with the hopeful
tone of his early letters and then awes us by the serenity with which he faces the prospect of his own death.
The film tells this whole story, but does so in rather scattershot fashion. Unless you know the story ahead of time, it is often difficult to tell
precisely what is going on and how all the characters and situations relate to one another. There are also a few unfortunate liberties taken with
the story--liberties that do not make the film more understandable but less--the most perplexing of which is the decision to make Bonhoeffer's
teenage fiancé seem quite ditzy. This makes it hard to imagine what Bonhoffer saw in her, other than youth, beauty, and availability, and, I
thought, gave their relationship an almost creepy quality. From what I've been able to find in reading about them, she was actually quite
At any rate, the film is more than redeemed by its final scenes, leading up to Bonhoeffer's execution. In October 1944, the Nazis finally
uncovered evidence that revealed the extent of Bonhoeffer's involvement in subterfuge and he was at last tried and sentenced to death. He was
hanged on April 9, 1945, just a month before Germany surrendered (May 8th). A doctor at Flossenburg prison, who witnessed the execution,
described it thus :
Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling
on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and
so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps
to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor,
I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.
We do not get all of this in the movie, but we do see Bonhoeffer walking naked to the gallows. I hope that I can say precisely what I mean
here, without giving offense, but in the concentration camp footage we were shown in school there was something dehumanized about the
victims--first, because they appear in black and white; second, because they are so emaciated as to be barely recognizable as fellow humans;
third, because there are just so mind-numbingly many of them. But in this scene, Ulrich Tukur, playing Bonhoeffer, is obviously and achingly
human--pale, doughy, naked, and defenseless. Yet he carries himself with a poise and a calm that cows the vile Nazi prosecutor who has come
to sate his own bloodthirst. More than that though, the viewer too is humbled by the dignity and serenity that is portrayed here.
The writer Andrew Delbanco has said that, "belief is really not an option for thinking people today." Never mind anything else about this
provocative statement; consider just this aspect : Dietrich Bonhoeffer went to face death "certain that God heard his prayer" and so died a man
at peace. His life and his death still speak to us today. How will those who believe in nothing, who are certain of nothing, face their imminent
deaths? Who will wish to tell the tale of their futile rage against the dying of the light?
Likewise, consider the other phrase the doctor used : "entirely submissive to the will of God". Bonhoeffer's faith assured him that even his
death, especially his death, served God's purposes. If, for the faithless, Man is the measure of all things, then what purpose can a man's death
serve? Is it not always, necessarily a catastrophe beyond redemption? What have men who believe in their own sufficiency really gained in
freeing themselves from submission to God's will, if in exchange their lives become meaningless and their inevitable deaths disastrous?
Without being blasphemous or overdramatic here, there are obvious parallels to the life of Christ in Bonhoeffer's march toward death and they
add to our sense of him as the quintessential modern martyr. None of this is meant to suggest that Bonhoeffer is any more deserving of honor
than the tens of millions of totalitarianism's other 20th Century victims, but as it happens we know more of his life and death, and of his
struggle to remain true to himself and his God in the face of overwhelming evil, than we know of most of the others, and that the record he
managed to leave behind convinces us that his struggle, his life, and his death are worthy of memory. In one of the many bitter ironies that
litter Bonhoeffer's biography, he began his book, Ethics, with the foreboding line :
When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.
The manner in which Dietrich Bonhoeffer heeded this call, despite, or because of, his understanding of how it must end, makes, despite some
weaknesses, for an extraordinarily powerful and moving film. I am haunted by its final images.
GRADE : A-
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2006
Of all his great works, Bonhoeffer's life was the most marvelous. This film portrays well the sequence of events that led this particular disciple to pay the full price. This is not a slick Hollywood production; it is more a reenactment of a biography by actors who are creditable, not exceptional. Nevertheless there are some unforgettable scenes. The movie is quite worthwhile for one who wants to learn more about Bonhoeffer, as is the 2003 documentary, Bonhoeffer by Doblemeier. It will not offer much, however, to the viewer looking for a great deal of action and excitement.
59 of 71 people found the following review helpful
This docudrama about Dietrich Bonhoeffer's wrestling with putting his Christian faith into action while living in a Nazi context suffers because it marginalizes Bonhoeffer's faith and instead plays up the politics of the German resistance movement to which he belonged. It falls far short of the power of the movie ROMERO, although Bonhoeffer's story is no less powerful than that of Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered by the El Salvadorian fascists during mass for his outspoken commitment to Christ incarnate in the people of El Salvador.
Bonhoeffer also made clear that Christ was incarnate in the German Church--and acting in accordance with that belief brought him to join the German resistance movement, hoping to overthrow the evils of the Nazi regime. This video, however, neglects Bonhoeffer's struggle with the ethical dilemma this posed and focuses on the details of that resistance. While it does pose some nice anectdotes about Bonhoeffer's impact on other prisoners, and how his faith and prayers helped them go calmly to their deaths, it falls short of HANGED ON A TWISTED CROSS, a documentary about Bonhoeffer.
Three stars. No more. Don't waste your time on this one until you've seen HANGED ON A TWISTED CROSS and ROMERO. Both are far more powerful movies that proclaim a Christ Incarnate in the immediate present, rather than muddying the water with obscure political machinations gone awry.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was probably one of the few human beings in history we can call "absolutely Christian" without blinking an eye. A Protestant minister at the age of 25, having attended the most prominent German universities, he took the Gospels around the world.
His theology is a necessity for anyone remotely interested in Christianity and his most important work, "The Cost of Discipleship",
is a manifesto of hardcore authenticity as regards any spiritual life at all.
Ulrich Tukur does a pretty good job of playing Bonhoeffer--the only problem is that he isn't German. Neither is anyone else in the film.
The movie seems intent on being a theological treatise, a drama, and
a catalogue of Bonhoeffer's resistance activities to the Third Reich all at once. This doesn't work very well because there is simply too much to tell.
Still, though, there are some epic moments in this which make it worth watching. When Bonhoeffer explains his "Religionless Christianity" to a group of prisoners--including a Nazi doctor who he defends from the attacks of the others--it is done in a Church desecrated by the Nazis and is a perfect setting for that particular part of his theology.
His steely, tender but absolute refusal to allow any interrogation methods (which were much worse in reality) to give the Gestapo agent any information at all is well done. His befriending of a Nazi guard, which did happen, shows the Christlike power this man had.
The recital of his poem "Who Am I?" from "Letters and Papers From Prison" amongst the bombings of the camp is magnificent.
Anyone who knows Bonhoeffer's life must be reminded of Christ's words: "Pray that you do not come into the time of trial".
Flawed but highly recommended.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2009
Having loved Luther, and being a war movie buff, I honestly expected a lot more out of Bonhoeffer. The movie dwells heavily on the period of his imprisonment instead of his activities before, meaning very few changes in scenery and very limited opportunities for the overall perspective of this great man. I wish it had dealt more with his life before the war and developed his character better.
All the actors do a magnificent job - five stars for them, I just thought the story was a bit on the weak side for such a great man. Also, as a stickler for historical accuracy, once again, the movie makers got the German uniforms wrong - an amazingly common problem for some reason. Those who imprison and hold Bonhoeffer should be Shutzpolizei members, not members of the regular German army. Prisons were not manned by German soldiers and German officers, they were manned, oddly enough, by German police men. It's nit-picking, but things like that distract me and bother me in historical true-story films. It's just as easy to get details like that right, and it's something just about every WWII history buff would know right off the bat.
Overall, a decent movie, just wish it would've had a deeper and more well developed view of this unsung hero of the faith, serving God in the midst of the Reich.