Hildegard Bingen lived behind cloistered walls in the 12th century. But Hildegard Bingen’s music is still being played, music she composed more than 800 years ago.
That fact alone should be enough to warrant a film about an extraordinary woman.
But Hildegard is a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, a doctor of the church. Vision-From the life of Hildegard von Bingen — is a film in German about her life. It’s strangely touching.
Hildegard’s Young Life in the Convent
Vision, which includes subtitles, begins when Hildegard is eight, and is given by her parents to a convent. She is immediately adopted by a nun named Jutta, an affectionate and holy woman who takes Hildegard under her wing. Hildegard soon loses her loneliness and adapts to the life of the convent, along with another young girl.
We next see Hildegard when she is in her late 30s, still living in the convent. Jutta has died, and Hildegard has been nominated to become the new abbess. At first she protests, but when those around her tell her it is God’s will, she relents.
Curiously, she and the other nuns are cloistered with a group of men — monks who have also taken vows. One of the first moves Hildegard makes is to move her nuns to a cloister of their own, away from men and the dangers they represent.
Her First Victory
This is a challenge, as most of her male superiors are against it, but she ultimately succeeds. The nuns resent her, because they now have to live in tents until the cloister is built, but Hildegard remains an inspiration.
She tells them anyone who wants to can leave, but some stick with her.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Hildegard is that she has visions — visions that tell of the future. She uses her power judiciously, but is not afraid of them. She’s had these visions since she was a child. Some suggest she really suffered from migraines, which were the source of her visions. But the movie represents them well.
Hildegard: A Woman for the Modern Age
Mick LaSalle of SFGate.com, gave his impression of Vision:
What we have here is the story of a very cool nun from a thousand years ago. In addition, Hildegard von Bingen was a composer, an author on many subjects and a visionary, literally, whose revelations were set down in numerous volumes over four decades. But the cool part – the ways in which some of her attitudes were ahead of her time – is our modern point of connection, without which there could probably be no movie.
Von Bingen, as the head of a convent – think Sally Field‘s boss on “The Flying Nun” – eschewed self-castigation and had this zany idea that God didn’t want people to starve and flagellate themselves but to enjoy creation. She also encouraged theatrical presentations and on special occasions would have all the sisters let down their hair and wear white robes, the idea being that, as virgins, they were wedded to God and had the right to be beautiful.
The interplay, within von Bingen, of the modern and the medieval, is an interesting aspect of “Vision,” one nicely embodied by Barbara Sukowa, who plays her as a true mystic, brittle and driven, capable of intense personal attachments, and yet someone apart – someone not cuddly. The source of the drama, however, comes from von Bingen’s clashes with the priests of her time, who expected von Bingen and her nuns to behave like second-class citizens.
At one point, the head priest rejects an urgent request from von Bingen. Though she is disappointed, she recovers herself and leaves him with one of the great parting lines, “May God grant you peace in the short time you have left.”
A Fateful Relationship
Hildegard is presented in this film as a human, not as a saint. She becomes obsessed with a younger nun named Ricardis, who practically worships her.
But things change when Ricardis has the chance to become the abbess of a new convent. Her mother, who in the past has supported Hildegard, wants her daughter to now advance.
But Hildegard won’t budge. She is forced into acceptance after everyone in her life lobbies for Ricardis to move.
It’s not exactly a love affair, but it humbles Hildegard. While she is talented in music and showmanship, (and seeing the future), she doesn’t get everything she wants.
Mixed Reviews for Vision
There were mixed reviews for this film. Directed by
Margarethe von Trotta, a celebrated German film director,the movie is about women, but not necessarily only for women. Some critics utterly reject Christianity, and thus don’t see the point of a film about a nun.
Jeffrey Overstreet, in the Seattle Pacific University Response, addresses this.
it tells the dramatic story of a leader who lived a life of passions and disciplines that seem almost contradictory to a 21st-century mind.
If you’ve heard of Hildegard, you probably know her for the sacred music she composed. But she was also ahead of her time in her scientific inquiry. Her expertise in herbalism made her an effective healer. She was also a philosopher who wrote plays and poetry, and she helped the Benedictine nuns under her supervision gain more influence and responsibility within the church.
She deserves to be the subject of a great film. Is this that movie?
Actress Barbara Sukowa gives Hildegard intriguing complexity, a feisty personality, and an almost irresistible charisma that makes most other big-screen portrayals of religious leaders seem simplistic and judgmental. We rarely see Christians depicted as intellectuals with lively imaginations. The film inspires viewers to admire her courage, convictions and talents, but also to question her judgment at times.
So Hildegard is imperfect, as are all human beings. This movie will leave a mark. It is an intricate tale of the middle ages, a tale of a distinguished woman in that era, an era where few women managed to accomplish much in the wider world.
It inspires while it brings us down to earth. And it demonstrates that some remarkable women can create something that lasts almost a thousand years.
Check out other blog posts at Magic of History about the Middle Ages: