More than a series of allusions to and reenactments of important historical events in the life of Martin Luther and the religion he founded, Luther is an incisive portrait of a self-divided man who—in pursuit of satisfying his own needs rather than those of his countrymen—shaped Germany’s religious and cultural history.
When, in the final scene of Luther, Martin prays to his Lord that he believes, but nevertheless needs help with his unbelief or lack of religious faith, this seeming contradiction is consistent with John Osborne’s portrait of him as a neurotic man who is, from beginning to end, a rebellious son used to being punished by his father yet in need of his father’s love. “I beat you fairly often, and pretty hard sometimes I suppose,” Martin’s father Hans says, but he defends his past habit: “You were stubborn, you were always stubborn, you’ve always had to resist. . . .” From his acts of rebellion, therefore, Martin received a punitive expression of love sufficient for his need: “I loved you best,” he admits to Hans. “It was always you I wanted. I wanted your love more than anyone’s, and if anyone was to hold me, I wanted it to be you.” Indeed, Martin equates punishment with love, and without the one he seems unable to believe he will be deserving of the other.
It is one thing to equate punishment and love in relation to a mortal father. In relation to a heavenly and...
(The entire section is 525 words.)