NOTE: This review was written under a previous rating system. Some of the older reviews may express opinions and judgment calls that are not in line with our current standards.1975
James F. Collier
World Wide Pictures
I think it is an unfortunate peculiarity of our culture that causes us to automatically link phrases like “true story” and “determination” with the concept of sports. Maybe it’s a peculiarity of our culture, maybe it’s something wrong with the individuals in it, that makes the phrase “unlikely hero” conjure up for us images of characters who are more likely heroes than we are, enduring hardship that is somehow more glamorous than our own daily lives. Perhaps we think too highly of youth. Perhaps we do not think highly enough of women. Perhaps we forget what heroism really is. Whatever the problems may be with our perspective, there is something inside us that seems to keep us from associating “a true story of determination and unlikely heroism” with the meek and quiet spirit of a Christian spinster.
Realistic Holocaust stories are never really fun, book-to-movies are rarely satisfying, and there seems to be a wide gulf between the film quality of the fifties and that of the nineties. The Hiding Place, being a 1975 movie based on a book about the Holocaust, does pretty well, given its handicaps, and its message, the heroism of forgiveness, gratefulness and faith, is an admirable one, beyond any doubt. But as unique and as interesting as the story of Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom may be, and as desirable as it may be to have an example of true heroism to set before the girls we would like to see become courageous women of the faith, The Hiding Place is not, I believe, a film that should be shown to children. And, in spite of the production company’s close association with a conservative evangelical like Billy Graham, which might lead us to assume that the content would never be objectionable, there are a few things in this movie that I think should not be shown to anybody.
Part of the purpose of The Hiding Place was to provide a realistic picture of the Holocaust, especially as it affected women. It is true that some of those women were “German whores”; it is true that whorish lifestyles produced unwed mothers, and both of these realities are fairly delicately represented in the movie. It is also true that the Ten Boom sisters and all the other female prisoners in their camp were forced to undress and shower in front of the guards. Given the fact that there are dozens of effective ways of suggesting nakedness without actually showing it, the director’s decision to force the characters to undress in front of the audience* was not something that I consider necessary even to the goal of realism—nor do I consider realism necessary to the value of the movie.
A reference to the “boyfriends” from Corrie and Betsie’s youth, in the context of romantic love, is probably meant rather to play down the significance of temporary relationships than to promote them.
Violent and Intense Content:
Much of the violence is handled as I would have liked to have seen the sexual content handled: off screen. The screams, I believe, are realism enough. Not everything is left to our imaginations, however. A young man is shot and killed. Covered corpses lie in rows in the mortuary. Women are whipped and beaten, sometimes brutally*, by men and by other women, and there is graphic violence even in Corrie’s imagination*.
There is violence, too, of a less graphic nature. Gestapo raids were not gentle affairs; the Nazis’ interests in finding Jews and those who hid them were not benevolent. The intensity, even apart from sounds and images, is something that needs to be able to be grasped by everyone watching. Those who are naturally sensitive to “clean” intensity will probably find the less moderate sights and sounds too scary for the movie to be worth watching.
The worldview of The Hiding Place is explicitly Christian, which is something that I very much appreciate in movies, especially when the Christianity feels more like the flesh and bones of the film than like an ill-fitting suit of clothes wrapped around a secular framework. The Gospel is a relevant, well-written message, and it needs to be presented as such, which is something that The Hiding Place does very well, in my opinion.
I don’t think that any of the “negative” parts of The Hiding Place’s worldview are things that even the most conservative Christians have universal consensus on. Corrie’s decision to use deceit may be offensive to some families, no matter what her motives were. The times when she and Betsie “cannot answer” questions about God’s will may be seen either as a spiritual failing or a sign of humility, depending on the viewer. Betsie’s unwavering opposition to “hate” is another point that is up for interpretation1; likewise, the Ten Boom family’s belief that the Lord gave them extra-biblical leadings and visions. A disappointed “The Lord seemed to promise. How could I have been mistaken?” and a vision that a character was “not going to die”—a vision that, in a literal sense, proved false—will either clear things up for the audience or muddy the waters even more. A pastor who refuses to help save a Jewish child because of the illegality of the act stirs up Corrie’s indignation and elicits a “How can that man call himself a Christian?”—another scenario that might bother some viewers on several accounts. One of the prisoners carries a crucifix and later makes the sign of the cross during prayer.
For me, the greatest worldview problem in the entire movie was a ten- or fifteen-second part of a scene in which Papa Ten Boom asks a practicing Jew to say the blessing over the meal. I am persuaded that Christians should not be joining themselves in prayer with people of false religions2, but there isn’t a universal consensus on this point, either.
I came away from The Hiding Place feeling that Corrie Ten Boom’s story is really the story of Betsie Ten Boom, and their story is really that of their father, Caspar Ten Boom. I believe that Corrie and Betsie are role models for women young and old, not only because of the ten months they spent in prisons and concentration camps, but because of the fifty years before that, which they spent joyfully working with and for their father, a part of their lives we get a glimpse of in The Hiding Place. Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom were truly extraordinary women—stay-at-home daughters who never married, whose influence reached countries all over the world, and who faithfully passed on their father’s multigenerational legacy to countless individuals.
As much as I would love to give The Hiding Place a Recommendable rating, the sexual content simply will not let me do it. Those who have read the book recently (and I am not in that group) may be dissatisfied with the film’s abridgment and alteration of the true story, and those who were hoping for a softer kind of “inspirational” will be sorely disappointed, if not shocked by the content. I believe that The Hiding Place has enough value to make it worth watching, for people who are interested. I believe it also has enough violence and intensity to be potentially harmful for girls under the age of fifteen, though the boys in the audience could be a couple of years younger. Parental guidance is suggested.
1 Psalms 26:5, 31:6, 119:13, and 139:21-22; Matthew 5:43-44
2 John 15:23
* The scene involving partial nudity begins around 131 minutes into the movie, after the lengthy train scene, when the female prisoners are lined up, giving their belongings to Nazis behind desks. It ends when a character asks one of the guards “How much for underwear?”.
At approximately 151 minutes, when the prisoners are pushing a road roller, after a close-up of her face, Corrie very briefly envisions herself killing the camp mistress with a pickaxe. There is a large wound quite visible on the camp mistress’ torso, and blood is scattered all over her face and arms. She is sobbing and puts her arms up reflexively as Corrie raises her pickaxe again. It is a highly disturbing, almost defiling image that is over with about ten seconds after the close-up.
A woman’s hand is beaten repeatedly against the wall with the butt of a rifle at around 152 minutes, after Betsie tells fellow prisoners that “We are all trash”. There are no images of the hand itself, only of the woman’s face, until the following scene, during which her hand is bandaged. The scene is over when Betsie begins reading “Comfort the frightened”.
I would like to remind the younger viewers, especially, that it is not a mark of maturity to watch scenes that are too intense for us, and that we do not need to expose ourselves to images like these ones in an attempt to gain maturity. Remember: if you choose not to watch it this time, you can always change your mind about it next time. Once you’ve seen it, there’s no going back. The images I have mentioned here do not enhance the film or the viewer’s appreciation or understanding of it.