The new counter-culture: Babette's Feast

11:35 AM

Maybe it’s a little soon to say this, but Babette’s Feast is the best movie I’ve seen this year.

I don’t want to over sell it, but there’s a reason most people never heard of this movie.

It’s a Danish film with little action and a powerful message that goes directly against everything modern man believes and pursues.

And yet… the photography is stunning, the dialogues are moving and certain scenes are amazingly simple and philosophical. The characters are role models who would put George Bailey to shame.

Actually, Babette’s Feast seems to pick up where It’s a wonderful life left off. Both deal with the beauty (and the dullness) of everyday, ordinary life but whereas George Bailey constantly sacrifices himself for his family, the three main characters in Babette’s Feast sacrifice themselves for God and their fellow human beings.

Babette is a French refugee who lives with two elderly women, Filippa and Martine, in a small Scandinavian town. The three live very simple, humble lives: Babette working as a maid/cook and the two women helping the elderly, the poor and the sick of the village.

Problems arise when Babette, a Catholic, offers to make a typical French dinner in celebration of the birthday of Martine and Filippa’s father. The two sisters, strict Protestants, view the French dinner with utter horror and an occasion for sin and vice. Will they be charitable and allow Babette to go on with her luxurious French dinner?

The background stories of the two sisters are very interesting and their attitudes towards the pursuit of marriage and carrier are shocking to modern eyes. 

It is noteworthy that it was said that they live “impoverished lives". For our Age, where the pursuit of all interests other than our own has been dismissed, yes, their lives are boring. But for the characters themselves and those who share their Christian worldview, they live very rich lives.

I won’t say more about the story because I don’t want to spoil the movie’s beautiful surprises, but watching this movie now is just so refreshing.

The last time I went to the movies I saw 5 trailers that dealt, one way or another, with the destruction of the world as we know it. 


These movies, with fitting names such as After Earth, Oblivion, Escape from Planet Earth (can you guess which one is a children's movie?) had a lot in common. All portrayed more or less apocalyptic scenarios where Earth or part of it is destroyed and people are left alone to fight for survival, their futures bleak and not promising.

Funny how these movies are far from the reality of (relative) peace and prosperity in the Western world. So, where does this need to watch bleakness and despair come from? What is it mirroring? Since it doesn’t mirror the outward reality, it must be expressing our inner reality. 

The question is: do these movies offer a sense of meaning or belonging in the end? Or are they fueling our dissatisfaction with violence and destruction, deepening an inner void?

Think of The Hunger Games. The main character offers to die for others, which is a much bigger and courageous sacrifice than the ones in Babette’s Feast or It’s a Wonderful life. But the presence of action, violence and competition in the movie end up glamorizing this sacrifice.

What Babette, Martina, Fillipa (and George Bailey) do is not glamorous at all. 

But what is more readily available: to give away your life or to eat a coarse, unseasoned soup without complaining like Babette does?

Babette’s Feast reminds us that our lives, no matter how much they are filled with seemingly ordinary, repetitive actions, can be very meaningful and rich. 

That's something we easily forget, specially with so many movies teaching us otherwise. Which is why I wish more people would watch and learn to appreciate Babette’s Feast.

I’d say that very soon, movies like this and It’s a wonderful life will be considered outdated. I consider them counter-culture.

Have you seen Babette's Feast or It's a Wonderful Life? What do you think of these new movie releases?

Images: 1, 2 (Dvd still), 3

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  1. I haven't seen either, but I've heard only great things about It's a Wonderful Life, and from what you said, it seems Babette's message is very meaningful and beautiful, so I hope to watch both of them soon.

    1. It's a Wonderful Life is a truly beautiful movie and it's a safe bet for those who like classics. I watched it just because of James Stewart and enjoyed it immensely. Hope you do too!

  2. I saw Babette's Feast years ago - I mean, many years ago - I don't think I was more than ten or twelve. I did enjoy it a lot, though I don't remember a lot of the details. It is considered an iconic film but we were perhaps a little more likely to want to see it than the average Canadian family as my mum is from Finland and so there was always an interest in Scandinavian/Nordic culture. Your comments on it are interesting and make me want to see it again.

    I don't know if you've seen The Seventh Seal, the Swedish film by Ingmar Bergman? It is a truly great and beautiful film and you might find it interesting if you've not seen it yet, although in terms of faith it is definitely on the "questioning" if not cynical and doubting side.

    1. I'm glad you've seen Babette's Feast, specially because of your family background. (A lot of people discover this film because it's considered a "foodie" movie.)

      I really like The Seventh Seal. I remember it made a huge impression on me the first times I saw it. I was lucky to watch it on the movies some years ago. But only on the last viewing I realized what you mentioned about how it questions the existence of God and so on. To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure where I stand on this film!


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