Q — What is your take on the film ‘Babette’s Feast’?

A — The 1987 movie, based on Isak Dinesen’s short story, follows two sisters, Martina and Philippa. They are daughters of the founder of a small ascetic sect, other-worldly and life-denying, living in a village in a Norwegian fjord in the latter half of the 19th century. Both sisters have embraced their father’s austere form of Christianity.

When he dies, the two sisters carry on their father’s work and memory, presiding as best they can over his diminishing community. The sisters’ lives change when a stranger named Babette comes to be their servant at no cost. In reality Babette has been a gourmet chef in Paris, now a refugee from civil war in France in 1871. The father’s small congregation is getting older, and they are quarreling among themselves over old but remembered strife, division and sin.

Martina and Philippa, hoping to heal the community’s divisions, invite the community to a commemorative meal on the occasion of the pastor-father’s centenary of birth. It will be a festive but still austere meal until Babette wins a French lottery and with her winnings makes turtle soup, quail, fresh fruit and cheeses, a copious supply of champagne and other wines. The feast is Eucharistic through and through, a kind of reenactment of the Last Supper, and an anticipation of heaven understood as a banquet. There are 12 guests at the meal, excluding Babette who is working in the kitchen. The symbolic parallel with the Twelve at the Last Supper leaps immediately to mind, and Babette, the servant, is an image of the servant-Christ. The participants at the meal begin to recognize the abundance of God’s gifts, freely given, including the delights of the senses. The meal also enables them to reach out in forgiveness to one another, and to live more joyously together. Healing begins in this hurting community.