Film Review

Vision

Review by William Blizek
University of Omaha at Nebraska

(Credits)

Vol. 14, No. 2 October 2010

Vision

[1] Vision is the story of Hildegard von Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, mystic, and visionary (1098 – 1179). At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard produced works of theology, works on philosophy, visionary writings, plays of virtue, music, and treatises on the medicinal uses of plants and animals. Also unlike most women, Hildegard was consulted by bishops, popes, and kings, to whom she gave advice. She was also threatened with excommunication by the Church. Little is known about her so this film offers a much needed portrait of the German saint.

[2] More than a biography, Vision uses Hildegard to represent various kinds of religious conflicts that continue to exist in the Church today. One of these is the conflict between men and women. When one of the sisters in her group is found to be pregnant, Hildegard establishes her own cloister – for women only. Another conflict is between women and the patriarchy of the Church. The male clergy do not like having a woman influencing the decisions of the Church hierarchy. Amongst these conflicts arise the concepts of fear and superstition that exist in a patriarchal environment.

[3] Hildegard is a strong and compassionate woman who has visions (her visionary writings are descriptions of those visions). She sees light where others see only darkness. For Hildegard, her visions carry more weight than the authority of the Church. How is the Church to deal with "messages from God?" The story also represents a conflict between genuine service to God and promoting the image and success of the Church. Hildegard not only highlights conflicts that arise in the Church (power and money); she deals with her internal conflict – a conflict between giving guidance to the sisters of the cloister and using those sisters for purposes of her own. She may be considered a feminist in today's world, but she had to be a shrewd politician in a world controlled by men.

[4] It may be that the most important conflict represented in the film is one that occurs at the most fundamental level of epistemology. What is the difference between understanding the world through sight or vision and understanding the world through how we think and organize the world around us? In a world that emphasizes science and logic, we may be ignoring what can be learned only through vision. At least this is a challenge offered by the film.

[5] Vision was released in Europe in 2009 and is now being distributed in the United States by Zeitgeist Films.


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