I recently watched the Danish film Babette’s Feast. It was recommended by a friend who described it as a story of healing and reconciliation. The movie is set on a tiny coastal town in 19th century Denmark, where a small Christian sect quietly live out their lives together. The minister who leads the sect has two beautiful and gifted daughters. The young women never marry but remain true to their father’s wishes to take care of the aging people in the community. Theirs is a life of sacrifice and devotion. As the movie progresses, Babette, a French refugee, finds safety in their home after her husband and family are killed during an uprising in Paris. She faithfully serves them for fourteen years. Her only ongoing connection to France is a lottery ticket purchased by a friend on a yearly basis.
As the movie moves towards a climax, Babette and the aging sisters--their Father long since dead--discover that Babette has won the lottery. She is rich and able to return to France. In response, she makes one simple request: As an act of gratitude and love, she desires to cook a French dinner for the people in the town. Not only does she want to cook it but she desires to pay for it herself. The sisters hesitantly agree. As preparations proceed however, they fear that they have made a terrible mistake; one that could lead them, at best, down the path of ungodly pleasure or, at worst, to outright witchcraft. They decide partake of the dinner but choose to show no delight or satisfaction while eating it. Meanwhile the community is in conflict, people fear for their salvation over past indiscretions, and the sisters do not know what to do.
The meal is the climax of the movie. Its beauty and the careful preparation that goes into it loosen the townspeople up. There is reconciliation, forgiveness, and joy. The movie closes as the sisters sadly wish Babette well in her plans to return to France. But shockingly, she reveals that she will not be returning as she has spent her fortune on the meal for the towns people. Her greatest joy was in using her culinary art to bless those who so generously sheltered her in her time of difficulty.
Babette’s feast is a movie about beauty and its power to bring reconciliation and healing. The beauty of the feast, the artistry of its planning and preparation, the act of love it demonstrates with the obvious religious theme is refreshing. There is no overpowering characters, no excessive drama, and the Christianity displayed is not for proselytizing purposes. But the message is clear: beauty has healing properties. Joy and artistry has a place in redemption. I am reminded of the Psalmists personal declaration, “Surely you have granted [me] eternal blessings and made [me] glad with the joy of your presence” (Psalm 21:6). C.S. Lewis autobiography Surprised by Joy details how simple glimpses of unexplainable joy helped bring him to faith in Christ. And Jonathan Edwards in his sermon on Isaiah 32:2 notes this:
"The soul of every man necessarily craves happiness…Man is of such a nature that he is capable of an exceedingly great degree of happiness…It must therefore be an incomprehensible object that must satisfy the soul; it will never be contented with that, and that only, to which it can see an end, it will never be satisfied with that happiness to which it can find a bottom… Men in their fallen state are in very great want of this happiness…Men in their natural condition may find something to feed their senses, but there is nothing to feed the soul…There is in Christ Jesus provision for the full satisfaction and contentment of such as these. The excellency of Christ is such, that the discovery of it is exceedingly contenting and satisfying to the soul…Christ’s excellency is always fresh and new…" (Jonathon Edwards, “Safety, Fullness, and Sweet Refreshment to be Found in Christ,” Sermon on Isaiah 32:2)
Babette’s Feast points to that refreshment, that fullness, that healing beauty in Christ. I highly recommend it. Bon Appetit.