Whether or not Christians should participate in and celebrate Halloween has become the subject of many conversations over the last few years. Every October, more and more Christians begin asking if dressing up as ghosts and ghouls is appropriate.
But October 31 is more than just Halloween. It is also Reformation Day. And 500 years ago this Reformation Day, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, and the sounds of his hammer are still echoing in our ears.
As great as his act was, few people know or understand the German monk. That reality is one reason Stephen McCaskell focuses on him in Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.
It would be easy for this documentary to become a dry history lesson or to focus so strongly on Luther himself that little context of his world is offered. But McCaskell skillfully walks the tightrope balancing both.
In fact, that is one aspect of the film I appreciated most. I don’t know as much as I would like about 16th century Western Europe or about Luther. The caricatures in my mind make the Catholic Church the bad guy in a black hat and Luther the good guy in a white hat. Basically, I viewed that era of the Catholic Church as the Sith and Luther as a Jedi.
But I walked away from Luther with a deeper and more accurate understanding of both.
One way McCaskell accomplishes this is by offering an honest portrait of Luther. He shows the astonishing and the baffling aspects of his character. The roles of pastor, theologian, and husband come out in the bold man of God who challenges the religious elite and eviscerates anyone who disagrees with him. Well-known scholars bring insight that helps viewers grasp the monk’s impact on history.
“We admire the Luther at the Diet of Worms, but we are horrified by the Luther of 1525 (when he wrote a harsh book toward peasants),” one speaker says. “I think we have to understand … that the same character trait that allowed Luther to do the one great and admirable thing also drove the reprehensible thing.”
Many of the documentaries I watch (Yes, I am one of those guys who enjoys documentaries.) are videos of talking heads with a few outside shots just to give your eyes a break. But McCaskell has a beautiful and appropriate balance. You get to see people talking, but you also get to see the world they are talking about.
The documentary includes amazing aerial shots to give you a context of the world you are hearing about and provoking animations that bring the internal conflicts of Luther’s life to the screen.
Whatever you choose to do this Halloween, take a break from the candy, costumes, and pumpkin spice everything. Or get all of that together and sit down to watch Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer. You will never see October 31 in the same light.
The documentary is available for purchase here on DVD, Blu-ray, and as a digital download.
Watch the trailer below.