Five Dostoevskyian Films


Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vasily Perov (1834 - 1882), Russian

The beloved Russian novelist, essayist and philosopher was born on this day (11th of November) in 1821. He was educated for an engineer, but interested in literature from the earliest age and unable to leave his true passion - he translated books even while working as an engineer. His personal life path was full of turmoil and hardship - his mother died when he was 15, in 1849, he was arrested for belonging to literary cycles critical of Tsarist Russia, he was even sentenced to death, but in the very last moment, he was commuted. He spent four years in Siberian prison camp and six years of compulsory military service in exile. Soon after the release from prison, he married, but his first wife died very young, just like his first child, Sonya, who did not live beyond infancy. With time, he developed gambling addiction which brought him severe financial problems. However, not everything was dark, his second marriage with Anna Snitkina was successful, she helped him greatly in getting back on his feet. They had three children, one of them, their daughter Lyubov, was a writer herself. His novels eventually, gained him fame and respect he was able to witness. Heavy existential themes, social and political issues, psychological struggles, religion, faith, personal freedom are some of the characteristics of his novels and stories. Here is a short list of films with Dostoevskyian themes.

1. Ikiru (1952)

"Life is brief Fall in love, maiden Before the crimson bloom Fades from your lips Before the tides of passion Cool within you For those of you Who know no tomorrow... " So sings the song that appears on Akira Kurosawa's classic, "Ikiru". Akira Kurosawa was open in expressing his love for Dostoevsky's novels. In "Ikiru", a bureaucrat, who thought himself safe and secure in his little spot in the universe, performing repetitive tasks and doing nothing but passing time, discovers he has terminal cancer. Only after facing death face to face, he wakes up from his passive survival and non-living and discovers a craving for life. Ikiriu takes us on a thought-provoking journey, discussing death, freedom, social expectations and individual's place within them, 2. Sunset Song (2015)

"He played for all those who died:

Long Rob...

Chae Strachan...

and Ewan.

All of them.

We had the last of the light up there.

And maybe we did not need it or heed it...

but you can do without day if you have

a lamp quiet lighted and kind in your heart." "Sunset Song" is a slow, long and moody film by English director Terence Davies. A young Scottish girl experiences a heavy and brooding coming of age experience filled with abuse, poverty and war. In the middle of all the trauma and loss she experiences, she still has to find meaning in life and a reason to continue. The questions of survival, growing, responsibilities, ideals and harsh reality that take place here, are close to concerns expressed in Dostoevsky's work. 3. Winter Light (1963)

Faith, God and doubt are common themes in Ingmar Bergman's films. In his classic, "Winter Light", a pastor experiences severe doubt of faith, alienation and finally his failing those around him - the suicidal man, the woman he loves, and finally God. Struggling with his inability to rise above his ego-self, to communicate, reach out and find meaning, it strikingly reminds of the Dostoevsky's character in "Notes from Underground" and Ivan in "The Brothers Karamazov". 4. Song to Song (2017)

I have often read and heard that in order to enjoy a Terrence Malick film one has to have a "Malick" gene - and despite the fact that my personal "Malick" gene is quite strong, I could understand why Malick would not be everyone's cup of tea.


Being one of his recent films, "Song of Songs" explores alienation, self-delusion, the need for true experience, love, partnership and our ever-constant fear of losing some part of ourselves, our resistance to leaving behind that which must be left behind. Love as salvation and pointer, simplicity and connection that is always available behind the noisy, aggressive modern lives are just some of the themes that connect themes of Dostoevsky's novels and Malick's exploration of modern youth, its ever constant escapism and fear of missing out. 5. Sacrifice (1986)

Andrei Tarkovsky's "Sacrifice" is not just a cinematic eye-candy offering a plethora of stunning cinematography and photography but it also explores themes that have interested humanity from its earliest creative pursuits - themes of good, evil, sacrifice and faith. Alexander, after hearing that death and destruction are approaching, prays to God and promises to sacrifice everything in order to save his family. Seemingly easy and simple, he has to not only take a leap of faith but he has to find a way to trust his faith. How can he know that it is God he is hearing and speaking to and not just his desires, fears, delusions and attachments cheating on him? Dilemma between faith and doubt, the value of sacrifice and suffering for others are a part of almost every Dostoevsky's novel.

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