Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Sacrifice

Tarkovsky's last film is not quite as good as some of his others, but still worth seeing. This review does a pretty good job of explaining why. I can't really say more without spoiling the story, so consider yourself warned.

The review ends with these words:
At the end of The Sacrifice, the young boy sits beneath his now departed father's tree and breaks his silence with damning effect; "In the beginning there was the word" he says. "Why is that, Papa?".

In the face of such an argument, perhaps it is easy to see why it can be difficult to write about Tarkovsky.
But this isn't an argument, and it's meaning is not clear to me at all. I agree that Tarkovsky does a lot with pictures (light and time) rather than words, which makes it hard to get at what's good about his work in words, but when he brings references to Nietzsche into the script, don't you have to think there is something not purely visual going on? There is saying as well as showing. But what is being said is hard to make out, I find.

Is the idea at the end that children need their parents (to explain things to them, etc.) and so should not be abandoned? In that case the man's sacrifice was a bad idea. It is presented as being both altruistic (he is saving the world, after all) and selfish (he asks God to rid him of his unbearable fear). What he gives up is not his own life but everything that matters to him, which includes the boy. That seems wrong to me, unless he does not literally mean the boy's life. And then when he sleeps with a witch, isn't that something that would normally count as a sin? It would be interesting if he were damning his soul in order to save the world, but it is far from clear that that is what is going on. It isn't clear whether he has dreamed the whole thing, or God has answered his prayers, or the witch's magic has saved the world. Nor is it clear whether what happened (whatever it was) is good or bad. All we really know is that the man loses his world, and the world goes on otherwise as normal.

That and the fact that the boy is still tending the seemingly dead tree at the end, a very Cormac McCarthy-ish image (keeping hope/faith alive from one (male) generation to the next, despite the evident grounds for despair). Perhaps the idea is that we cannot know or understand, but can only hope. Faith might somehow save the world or be a form of insanity. It's a Kierkegaardian risk.

Beautiful, but not very satisfying.


UPDATE: if you're interested , you might want to read this essay, which tries to make sense of the film.

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