The world of darkness wars incessantly against the world of light, never more so than at Christmas. As the day commemorating the birth of Our Saviour approaches, the media will focus on quarrels, shootings, knifings, and economic collapse. People will stand in long lines while surly customers hand plastic cards to scowling shop girls to buy things they don't need, with money they don't have, for people who don't care.
It is fitting that Christmas arrives when the days are shortest, since the constant struggle between the spiritual realm and the world of matter finds its ultimate metaphor in the contending forces of light and darkness. One movie illustrates this contest better than any other, and it is, strangely enough, the movie "Heidi."
I do not mean the many Hollywood versions of this story. Hollywood invariably trivializes the moral and spiritual aspect of any story, even though the final result may be heart-warming and sentimental enough.
The version of the Heidi story which is uniquely valuable is the 1956 version filmed in Switzerland and directed by the Italian director Luigi Comencini. Whereas modern-day Hollywood, taking a page out of Marx and Freud, tears down what is high and noble, Comencini's film is careful to bring out the wonder in everyday things.
Heidi's story is well-known. Heidi, an orphan, is taken from the foothills of the Swiss Alps to a far-off city, where she is beset by homesickness. She befriends a crippled girl, Klara, and through the power of love, Klara regains her ability to walk. The viewer is told in the gentlest and subtlest of terms, that Heidi's suffering and sacrifice has worked for good. Her story reveals how a fallen world is repaired through love, sacrifice, and endurance, and these are all essential aspects of God.
The key to the deeper meaning of the movie is contained in a question Heidi asks her young friend, Peter, a goatherd, as they walk alongside a stream that winds its way up the mountains. Heidi asks "Where is the beginning of the beginning?" Here is a question asked only by those who dwell in a world of bright summer days and long winter nights, a world of quickly alternating light and dark. It is the same as asking "What is the origin of all that is holy and pure?" The beginning of the beginning is of course, the Logos or Christ, who created the world through the Holy Spirit. Lost in the bustling city, Heidi must climb the high tower of the cathedral to see beyond the material world, back to her homeland and the "beginning of the beginning."
The big city - Heidi's new home - is a world of matter and sorrow, symbolized by Klara's inability to move about. The city in the original story was Frankfurt, the financial capital of Germany, and like New York, a center of both high finance and Marxism. The only unpleasant character in the movie is Heidi's tutor Rothenmeyer, who symbolizes the forces of urban finance, that is, the forces of matter unenlightened by spirit, the forces of death and decay. The moment of Klara's healing through the power of God's spirit manifested in the love of God's creation, is, I think, the single most moving and mysterious moment in the whole of the cinema.
The gift Heidi brings back during Holy Week settles a long-standing feud between her grandfather and the people of the nearby town. Thus the movie teaches that the value of any gift, no matter how small or large, is its spiritual meaning. The film ends with Heidi, her grandfather, and the townspeople all together in church singing a hymn.
It is difficult to find a movie with a more Christian message, or a better movie to watch with the family at Christmas. Not everyone will appreciate the movie, only those with a special bond to Heidi's world.