The Weight of Love

Faith and Film Friday: The Jeweller’s Shop

Editor’s Note: This is the ninth and final review in our series, Faith and Film Friday. Read the whole series here.

Love is a constant challenge. It is given to man so he can challenge fate; the future depends on love.

Perhaps the gravest feature of living in such secular times as these is our inevitable crisis of love. For when man disregards the God Who Is Love, he soon forgets love’s essence and thereby forgets his most basic identity and mission: that he was made by Love Itself, out of an act of love, for the noble purpose of loving.

That theme—man’s vocation to love—is the lifeblood of The Jeweller’s Shop (1988), a creative film-adaptation of Karol Wojtyła’s noted play of the same name, first published under a pseudonym in 1960 when the future Pope Saint John Paul II was auxiliary bishop of Krakow. Both the play (which is subtitled, “A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Passing on Occasion into a Drama”) and the film follow the interwoven relationships of three couples: Teresa and Andrew (Andrzej, in the movie), Anna and Stefan, and Christopher and Monica. The dramatic storylines of each relationship are tethered to a mysterious jeweler, who has in his shop a scale that measures not the “weight of these gold rings” but rather “the proper weight of man,” namely the love that dwells within a given soul.

The film begins in Krakow in 1939, just before the advent of World War II. Andrzej and Stefan, men in their mid-twenties, enthusiastically court two peers, Teresa and Anna, as they embark on a hiking excursion in the mountains with other young adults led by a wise young priest, Father Adam. (The plot accents from Wojtyła’s own biography are unmistakable.) As Andrzej and Stefan deepen their relationships with Teresa and Anna, their differences in character are unveiled, as with the fate of their future marriages. Andrzej and Teresa are deliberate and earnest, each wrestling maturely with their readiness for the commitment and sacrifice that they know to go in tandem with love. It is not until Teresa’s persistence moves Andrzej, an ambitious architect and developer, to see a beauty beyond what can “be sensed and touched”—a beauty that “touched [his] mind”—that he asks Teresa to be his “life’s companion.” Andrzej is finally convicted that love, ultimately, is a matter not of the passions but of the will: that he and Teresa “ought to be together, no matter what [their] moods and sensations might be.”

Stefan, on the other hand, pursues Anna by drawing attention to himself with bombastic white lies and other tomfoolery. His actions convey the understanding that a wife is not so much a “life’s companion” as an apparent accessory, an object of sentimental affection, and, in time, when sentiments run dry, a rather burdensome object at that. As Nazi Germany prepares to steamroll into Poland, Stefan scoffs at Andrzej’s motivation for joining the Polish army to fight the Nazis (“if a country is worth living in, it’s worth fighting for,” says Andrzej) and shares his own plans to flee with Anna to Canada, where he hopes to network his way into a top medical practice. The evident selfishness of that decision later haunts him, and all the more so when he discovers Andrzej died of wounds suffered during the Nazi invasion of Krakow. But even that news is not enough to effect a change, and Stefan continues to withdraw further into himself and away from Anna as if they were strangers, not lovers.

It is well-known that Karol Wojtyła, who lived through the thick of those dark days of war, was both a great student of marital love and a seasoned pastor to married couples. The same year he published The Jeweler’s Shop, he also published Love and Responsibility, a philosophical treatise focused particularly on marital love. His unique conceptual and experiential knowledge of divine and human love come through powerfully in the play’s and the film’s images of the third relationship, that of Christopher and Monica.

Having moved to Quebec with the aid of Anna and Stefan in 1947, Teresa has single-handedly raised her son Christopher, with whom she was pregnant at Andrzej’s death. By 1962, Christopher is a college student and, as it happens, in a serious relationship with Anna and Stefan’s daughter, Monica. But this courtship is not as simple as those of their parents. Concrete wounds persist on both sides: for Christopher, the lifelong absence of a paternal icon; for Monica, an acute skepticism about the very possibility of love, having grown up in a marriage bereft of love. (“Does every marriage turn out like yours,” she painfully asks her father Stefan.)

The realism of the film hits home here: love is no game, and when it fails, tragic consequences ensue. One need only look around our culture to see the tsunami of destruction wrought by counterfeit love. And yet, by the end of the film, the enduring challenge of love—the call from Love Itself that every soul fight for true love and seek daily its renewal—moves each character to action. Anna, despairing over her husband’s consistent neglect and hardness of heart, attempts to return her wedding ring to the jeweler, but it does not register on the scale—“your husband must be alive, in which case neither of your rings, taken separately, will weigh anything,” he says. At this, and with the help of Father Adam, she comes to appreciate that the face she has come to despise—that of her husband—is in fact, for her, the face of Christ, the one she must love, the one about whom, at her judgment, Christ will most directly say, “You did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

Meanwhile, Christopher, compelled by his mother’s steadfast witness to the integrity of his father Andrzej’s love, faithfully perseveres in his pursuit of Monica despite more than a few awkward, even corny missteps. And Monica, in her own bold search to discover whether love is real, inspires her parents to confront their situation and, in the process, finds the answer she has been seeking.

Both the play (roughly 70 pages) and the film (87 minutes) are well worth their time, best in succession, and especially for couples to read aloud and watch together, whether dating, newlywed, or approaching a silver or golden anniversary. Indeed, The Jeweller’s Shop, in Pope Saint John Paul’s own estimation, was “the best possible film based on my play.” That can be said not simply because the film is faithful to the play in plot and script but, more fundamentally, because it penetrates to the heart of the play’s resounding theme: mankind is made for love, and life’s deepest and purest joys are discovered only when genuine love, with its constant demand for sacrifice and conversion, is lived. Against the alluring trappings of ephemeral love, so rife in our contemporary situation, it is real love—Love Himself—that constitutes the only true antidote: for, as Father Adam counsels, God is eternal, and the eternity of man can only pass through Love.

Photo by Josh Applegate

From Dominicana Journal