by William Collen
There is a reason that generations of readers have loved The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom’s account of her family’s experiences during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Her story is eminently relatable—all of us, at some time or another, have wondered how our faith would withstand the kind of trials that ten Boom and her family went through. James Collier’s 1975 film version of The Hiding Place focuses on the philosophical questions raised by Corrie ten Boom’s narrative. The atmosphere is very different between the book and the film; the book’s focus on place is substituted for the film’s emphasis on relationships. Some of the beloved characters of the book are missing, and some new characters are added. As a product of Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures, the film maintains a consistently didactic tone, which might annoy some viewers. But the film never compromises in its honest portrayal of the real events which were its inspiration—the story remains as compelling as in ten Boom’s autobiography. In fact, by stripping the story down to the essentials, the film perhaps tells the story even more forcefully than the book does.
The first seventy pages of ten Boom’s autobiography consist of a detailed description of her home and family life before the events that form the focus of her story. The film skips all this introductory material, jumping straight into 1940; Holland has capitulated to the German army, and the Dutch government has fled the country. The ten Boom family is depicted, not so much as the center of a web of operations for the Dutch underground, but as an ordinary Christian family with a deeply-held commitment to the Biblical ideal of “love your neighbor.” And for Hollanders in 1940, the most vulnerable neighbors were the Jews who lived near them. Scene by scene, the film portrays how much the ten Booms were willing to risk for the sake of the Jewish people whom they helped to escape into the countryside—and the sacrifices they made to let those people feel as comfortable as they could.
The film’s first half is an extended meditation on the meaning of Peter’s famous declaration that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The ten Boom family is adamant that what they are doing is right, and worth the risk. In an early scene, Caspar, the patriarch of the family, is confronted by a pastor friend after the family takes in a Jewish baby against the edicts of the Nazi occupation. “It is the law. And Christians must obey the law,” says the pastor. But Caspar counters that yes, Christians must obey the state, but only if doing so does not contradict the higher law of God.
However, for Corrie, this civil disobedience does have its limits. As she passes messages to members of the Dutch underground, her conscience begins to weigh on her about things like blowing up Nazi supply trains. She is unwilling to be an accessory when asked to help with the elimination of a businessman who betrays people to the Gestapo: “If I do what you ask, it would be the same as killing him myself.” She argues with her nephew, Kik, about the limits of their support for the resistance. “We could have blood on our hands,” she says; Kik responds “whatever helps Holland is right.” The film does not take e definitive stand on this debate, but for Christians, the choice between allying ourselves with our nation’s struggles, interests, and desires, and our obligation to follow our understanding of scripture, can be a serious ethical dilemma indeed.
Our current film landscape is replete with superheroes and special effects, yet it is refreshing to be reminded that not everything has to be a spectacle to be worth watching. This film is certainly not “entertaining” in the sense of being a pleasantly exciting diversion. It is a quiet, thought-provoking movie, just like the ten Booms themselves, who lived a quiet, thoughtful life. “We are past the age where excitement is of any major concern in our lives,” Corrie says at one point; at another, she declares “you might say my life was boring until all this.”
The movie takes a very sharp dramatic turn at the point when Corrie, her sister, and her father are arrested by the Nazis and eventually sent to Ravensbruck. Here, the emphasis is not on the family’s defiant refusal to follow the Nazis. Robbed of nearly all agency, Corrie finds herself doubting her faith, and wondering what God’s purpose might be for bringing them to the concentration camp. Betsy’s faith never wavers, however. If the ten Boom family had everything to lose in Haarlem, they now have nothing to lose — except their faith. Corrie herself almost gives in to the temptation to let herself be consumed by hate. Betsie, however, encourages her: “Hate puts you in a worse prison.” The lesson that Corrie must learn is not that faith in Christ will keep her from experiencing evil; rather, it is that her faith makes that evil of no importance. Paul says in Romans 8:39 that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of Christ. The family took risks in Haarlem and faced a profound test of their faith while in prison, but they knew they were in no danger of losing what mattered most.
Perhaps the only shortcoming in the film is its treatment of the problem of evil. One of their fellow prisoners confronts Betsie and Corrie as to why God would allow such suffering in the world. All the sisters can say in response is “if only you too could know his love; if you know him, you don’t have to know why.” It strikes me as odd that the ten Booms, who were Dutch Calvinists, would not have a more robustly theological answer to this common objection to belief in a supremely powerful, all-knowing God. In fact, I don’t understand why the scene is in the movie at all — it does not occur in the book.
Corrie ten Boom herself appears at the end of the film and states that “some questions remain, but they are not to be feared. Our Heavenly Father holds all things in His hand, even our questions.” For those who doubt, this might not be a very comforting thought. But for the faithful, it is indeed true that some things are beyond our understanding; as David says in Psalm 139:6, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” This side of eternity, we may never know why the atrocities against the Jewish people were allowed to occur. But we can be assured that Christ, our hiding place, does know. And that assurance is enough.
Click here to watch The Hiding Place on YouTube
William Collen is a Christian art critic who writes about art of all kinds at ruins.blog. He can also be reached on Twitter at @william_collen. He and his family live in Omaha, Nebraska.
One thought on “The Hiding Place — Film Review”
Thank you for this new category, “Film Review,” Team Agape Review, and thanks for your informative in-depth review of The Hiding Place, William. I read the book years ago but was unaware of the film version. I look forward to watching the film with your critical analysis in mind.
May God continue to bless you both!