Ida – the aesthetics of fake religion

The cinematography is truly beautiful, the film is not. It’s an emotionally deprived intellectual exercise. The characters are barely sketched and not allowed to emerge. Nothing really happens and nothing is really said. The photography quickly becomes pretentious to the extent where the actors are too often in a corner of the frame or with their heads outside. The Oscar was clearly the result of the principle: ‘it’s boring, must be good’.

Ida is the story of Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), an orphan during World War II, who grows up in a convent. Unbeknown to her, Anna’s family was Jewish and her real name was Ida. Before she takes her vows, the mother superior gives her the address of her aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), and tells her to go and see her. Wanda is a judge. She was in the communist resistance and sent many to death in the political trials after the war. The two women go on a road trip to find out what happened to Anna’s parents and where they are buried.  Wanda has gone through the horrors of the war and is now disillusioned and survives daily life by drinking and having sex with different men. Anna keeps silent.


Religion in the film feels rather artificial. It is the image non-religious people have of religion: the aesthetics of mysticism, the symbols of religious statues, pictures, and rosaries, and the unperturbed air of someone who is removed from reality. That is not lived religion, the one religious people experience and talk about it.

Anna has lived her life behind the safe walls of the convent. She has never made a choice and seems to be devoid of any reflections on it. After her road trip and an attempt at mimicking Wanda, she goes back to the convent. Her attempt at experiencing life (smoking, drinking, and sex) is again the image non-religious people have of monastic life. Abstinence from excessive drinking, sex, and romantic love is far from being the difficult part of monastic life. The real test lies in willing to love people you don’t like, making community with those you’d like to avoid. The convent in the film is portrayed as very quiet with the nuns never talking to one another. It’s trite and superficial, but it fits well the image people have of monastic life.

Jesus and the ‘Kingdom of God’

The film paints a contrast between the two women: Anna is respected because she is a nun, while Wanda is seen as a whore. Wanda has little time for the hypocrisy of those who have profited from the death of Jews during the war. She is blunt and rebellious. She is a lot purer than Anna. At one point, a drunk Wanda tells Anna: “don’t throw away your life”. Anna goes back to the convent, but it is not out of commitment. It’s just the life she knows.

Wanda says that she is a “slut”, while Anna is a “saint”, but that Jesus loved people like her. That is what you often hear from Christians. Jesus was in the world and he is someone to follow and that means being with people at the margin of society. Committed Christians recognise the sovereignty of God. Their pursuit of the ethical life is inscribed within the framework of ‘building the Kingdom of God’: a kingdom of love, justice, and peace. That means one cannot simply follow one’s conscience or society’s mores. The recognition of the sovereignty of God has the effect of calling on Christians to change their priorities. The Christian life cannot be solely about a career and family, let alone the search of happiness in materiality; rather one’s happiness results from being part of God’s design.

Committed Christians often feel small and insignificant, but their lives have meaning when they can make that tiny contribution in realising God’s Kingdom. Aware of their inability to live up to such a high ideal, they are filled with a sense of inadequacy. They are not better people. They are only trying.

This entry was posted in Christianity, faith, good & evil, Ida, monasticism, obedience, religion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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