The Quarantine Stream: 'A Hidden Life' Is Terrence Malick's Divine Hidden Gem

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The Movie: A Hidden LifeWhere You Can Stream It: HBO MaxThe Pitch: Based on a true story, A Hidden Life follows Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian farmer who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II, leading to the ostracization of his family and his imprisonment.Why It's Essential Viewing: Terrence Malick has been playing around in the cosmos for so long that it had felt like he had lost sight of the little people down below. But A Hidden Life is proof that he has not. One of his most structured films in a while, A Hidden Life offers up an astonishing real-life story that allows Malick to explore all his favorite lofty themes without losing his audience to his ethereal ramblings. It's a profoundly moving and stirring testament to the power of human conviction that was sorely overlooked when it quietly hit theaters last year. But how fitting, considering its title, huh?

I've read reviews that claim that only Malick die-hards would love A Hidden Life, but as someone who has been hit-or-miss on the notoriously high-minded auteur, I couldn't disagree more. This is Malick at his best, able to convey all his cosmic questions — of transcendence, of human nature, of the conflict between instinct and reason — through a most sympathetic vehicle, that of real-life Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, played with awe-inspiring conviction by Diehl (who finally gets to play a hero in a Nazi war movie). It's slow and languorous, as many Malick films are for sure, but it's also distressingly human.

I have never been a very spiritual person, but I am convinced that watching A Hidden Life is the second closest thing to having an actual spiritual experience. Malick has managed to make a film that captures the majesty of the human spirit and all it can achieve. Yes, with a character with an almost inhuman sense of integrity. Yes, with a film that can feel intentionally frustrating and often punishing. But A Hidden Life is so blindly optimistic about humanity and their resilience in the face of certain death that it starts to convince you a little bit too.

When I first saw the film in theaters, I remember thinking that A Hidden Life should have gotten the praise and adoration that Paul Schrader's First Reformed had received just a year before. Not because they're both movies that revolve around and question the nature faith, but because A Hidden Life feels like a hopeful foil to First Reformed's crippling cynicism. What an interesting double feature that would be — to see the dredges of humanity next to the best of it. Maybe First Reformed hit a chord because that is where we, as a society, are right now, while A Hidden Life slipped by because it's where we can only hope to, but never will, be. In a way, that is even more depressing to think about, but when I watch A Hidden Life, I can't help but hope just a little.