Precious Bodily Fluids

The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986)


Easily among the slowest of them all. Tarkovsky’s films are few, and it’s fairly easy to mark out their shared formal features and formal progress. As long as Andrei Rublev is, its pacing doesn’t feel as slow as Stalker, Nostalghia, and The Sacrifice, the last of which plods along particularly monotonously on account of looming narrative questions during its first act or two. Once things start “happening,” the events raise as many questions as they answer, such as how the protagonist’s friend seems to know with such certainty that visiting Maria and “lying with her” will unquestionably save humanity from annihilation. Mystery has never been far from Tarkovsky’s concerns, so why does it seem different here? Perhaps because this is one of the elusive mysteries peppered within an otherwise fairly straightforward narrative. Once underway, it’s pretty clear that a nuclear holocaust is about to take place, and the main character’s skepticism toward God is forced to confront the inevitability not just of his death, but the death of everything. Further, how does the narrative’s apparently-vindicated witchcraft jive with the sacrifice to God at the end, along with the son’s final/only line in the film, “In the beginning was the Word. What does it mean, Papa?” The father talks and talks and talks while his son is mute, then once his son recovers his speech, the father has taken a lifelong vow of silence. Formally, of course, we have exceedingly long takes, apparently the longest on average in all of Tarkovsky’s oeuvre. Shots aren’t only long but also taken from great distances, particularly outdoor scenes but indoor ones, too. Tarkovsky doesn’t shy away from darkness. It often appears that only natural lighting illuminates the mise-en-scene, like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Like StalkerThe Mirror, and Nostalghia, screening a high resolution versions of the film matters, in order for those blacks to be truly black and allow what light there is to offer contrast with the darkness. So, The Sacrifice: as near as I can tell, an older man, disgruntled with the world and quick to express his atheism, nevertheless adores his son and falls apart when he learns that the world will end. After reciting The Lord’s Prayer, he vows to God that he will sacrifice everything, his home, his family (especially his son), his speech, his whole way of life, if God will allow things to return to the way they were. When his paranormally-obsessed friend tells him to sleep with the family maid, who is a witch, he does so and the Earth is restored to peace. Upon confirming this, he is able to set fire to his home without harm to his family, and he is apparently subdued after going insane and driven away. Meanwhile, his son attends to the dead Japanese tree that they had planted together at the film’s beginning. The son is now able to speak.

This entry was published on September 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm. It’s filed under 1980s Cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky, Russian/Soviet Film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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