“Painting a True Christ”: Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life”

“Painting a True Christ”: Malick’s “A Hidden Life”
Don Michael Hudson, PhD

“The older man tells Franz – who has already been admonished that he has a duty to defend the fatherland (homeland) – that he makes his living painting pretty holy pictures for the culturally conditioned parishioners for whom God and country are synonymous. He says.

‘I paint their comfortable Christ with a halo over his head. We love him, that’s enough. Someday I’ll paint a true Christ.'”
I returned again to Malick’s “A Hidden Life” last night in a most beautiful way. Malick’s imagery mesmerizes me and stirs a nameless yearning in me. Almost every frame is a masterpiece in photography. I was struck more than usual by the conversation between Franz and the artist. Firstly, who has the courage to paint the “true Christ” and not the comfortable Christ, the beatific with requisite halo that so many so-called American Christians make in their own image? Secondly, who is willing to live the “true Christ” with all its suffering and shame and counter-narratives to this present world. Christ was a scandal–not a schoolboy.
“In one of his marvelous essays, “A Kind of Sharing,” John Berger, writing about painting, said,
‘The act of faith consisted of believing that the visible contained hidden secrets, that to study the visible was to learn something more than could be seen in a glance. Thus paintings were there to reveal a presence behind an appearance.’
This could be Malick’s motto, his faith. Or perhaps ‘to reveal a presence that is the appearance.’ The body is the soul. We are the world.”