Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

By Glenn Heath Jr.

In Terrence Malick’s harrowing new WWII drama, “A Hidden Life,” the majestic green valleys and epic mountain ranges of Radegund provide an epic natural backdrop for the internal struggle of conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl). During the Nazi occupation of Austria, he famously refused to pledge loyalty to Hitler and was promptly executed in 1943.

Like many of the conflicted male protagonists dominating Malick’s surging output over the last decade, Franz spends much of the film silently coming to grips with the seismic consequences of his decisions. But what sets “A Hidden Life” apart from, say, “Knight of Cups” or “To the Wonder” is how Malick incorporates the dueling perspective of Franz’s wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner) in ways that give both experiences equal importance.

There are multiple tiers of personal responsibility (to one’s country, family, self) that are complicated because of Franz’s moral predicament. He wears these stresses stoically on his face, but eventually the pressure becomes insurmountable, mostly because the close-knit rural community where he lives eventually turns angry and resentful. This reveals how the slow, steeping sway of fascism can turn vulnerable people into desperate aggressors.

Malick’s swooning aesthetic places Franz within poetic images and a densely layered sound design, which is then complemented by melancholic voice-over narration. Each character reads aloud letters they wrote during the most tumultuous and dangerous times.

Interestingly, what begins as an almost instinctual decision by Franz to go against the grain and defy Nazism eventually becomes fundamental; his resistance ends up being an organic part of his relationship with Franziska. That’s not to say doubt isn’t a constant bedfellow.

But “A Hidden Life” dares to place these competing human emotions side by side. In doing so, Malick addresses the malleable nature of our value systems, especially when they are under attack by nefarious outside forces.

Opening

“A Hidden Life:” In his typically sweeping style, filmmaker Terrence Malick tells the story of Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätte, who defied Hitler by refusing to pledge loyalty to the Nazi party during WWII. Opens Friday, December 20, at Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square 14.

“Bombshell:” Amid a culture of sexual harassment and misogyny, three female reporters at Fox News decide to blow the whistle on a toxic atmosphere created by long-known creep executive Roger Ailes. Opens Friday, December 20, in wide release.

“Cats:” Tom Hooper adapts the famous Broadway musical about a bunch of feisty felines who sing and dance in an urban sprawl. Opens Friday, December 20, in wide release.

“Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker:” The finale to this epic space opera that finds heroes Rey, Finn and Poe helping to lead the resistance against Kylo Ren and his forces of darkness. Opens Friday, December 20, in wide release.