A professor of Theology was recounting the time when one of the students at the seminary he teaches at suffered the loss of a loved one. The student visited the professor at his office shortly afterwards with questions regarding God’s purpose in such mindless tragedy. According to the professor, the student left his office in high spirits. A year later however, the professor received an email from this same student, with more questions regarding a good and loving God in the midst of a cruel and unloving world. The professor replied to the best of his abilities. Two years later, while visiting the blog of this same student, he encountered a post discussing the loss the boy had suffered many years before. “I finally understand the purpose of all this”, the post went. “It means there is no God.”
The quest at the heart of Black Death is a spiritual one. The swords and shields the characters wield play second fiddle to their true weapons: faith and prayer. There is an extraordinary scene set at a dining hall, in which Ulric (Sean Bean) stands up, his companions soon rising along, and recites the Lord’s Prayer. Because it is implied that everybody else in the room is a devil worshiper, the scene has unbearable tension, with the camera cutting between Ulric praying and everybody else, looking as if their cover is about to be revealed and demons will spill forth from every corner of the room.
Black Death is a bleak a movie about faith in God as I can recall. At the start of the picture, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) is shown kneeling at the cross, crying. The doubts the monk harbors are not about the existence of a higher power, but about the role he plays at the monastery, and whether or not he is the right man to serve the Lord. Osmund is in love you see, and not exactly with Jesus Christ. Osmund’s passions are of the flesh, as he is in a romantic relationship with Averill (Kimberley Nixon).
The movie progresses and Osmund suffers the sting of loss, but the filmmaker is wise enough to not show his increasing theological doubts to the audience firsthand. It is Langiva (Carice van Houten), the witch that Ulric and Osmund have been seeking for the entire time, who comments on Osmund’s new state of mind. Langiva, who holds sway over the entire village, understands the effect that turning a man of the cloth away from God would have on her people and on the Christian crusaders that have arrived to claim her life. It is exactly why the scenes in which she taunts him are so effective. Audiences know the toll the battle that is being waged in Osmund’s soul must be having on him.
“Why did you believe her?”, a crusader asks a heathen about the witch.
“Because she was beautiful”, he replies. “And real.”
Of his own faith, Osmund is not so sure about the real part anymore. At the end, he is kneeling at the cross again, but there are no tears on his cheek this time. Much like the kid at the seminary, he seems to agree that the reason for all the madness in the world is because there is simply no God.