52 Authors: Week 40 - Mary Douglas
Chris Rea : Stainsby Girls


Not Hobbes's book, but a recent movie from Russia, by director Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose name I would probably recognize if I were more knowledgeable about contemporary film-making. I only know about it because my late friend Robert recommended it. He described it as "a Bergmanesque masterpiece," and I regret that I didn't have a chance to tell him before he died that I more or less agree with him: "more or less" because I didn't find it as good as the best of Bergman. But it's still very, very good, and it is indeed Bergmanesque. 

Apart from Eisenstein's Potemkin, which I saw in college, the first Russian film I saw was with Robert, in the late 1970s when we both lived in Tuscaloosa. I have no idea what the name of it was. As I recall, it opened with a young boy seeing his father killed by a falling tree. It ended with that same boy, now a grown man, being murdered with a hatchet or hammer or some similar implement. "Very Russian," we agreed. Leviathan is also very Russian. It is not a pleasant or cheerful story, but it's a powerful one, very effectively told, and full of striking images. I wish I could see it on the big screen.

The title refers to the leviathan of Job 41: "Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?" And this is a story about a man afflicted by malicious forces for nothing he has done. But the Hobbes reference is also relevant, because a corrupt and powerful state is one of those forces. One hopes that its picture of contemporary Russia is darkened for dramatic purposes. The basic situation is that a man named Kolya lives, with his second wife and his son by his first wife, in an old house on property which is coveted by a local politician and an affluent cleric--a bishop, I suppose, but I'm not sure. Here's the trailer:


If you think that last bit of the score sounds like Philip Glass: it is.


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Funny you mention this, Mac, as I read a review of it recently which piqued my interest. I'm going to have to see if our library has it.

It's on Netflix--can't remember whether you have that or not. I'm pretty confident you'll like it, though I guess I should note that insofar as what happens in the movie can be taken as a portrait of the Russian Orthodox Church, it's a pretty unattractive one. I doubt that you're under illusions about those realities, though. And the corrupt cleric is balanced by another one, who quotes the scripture to which the title refers.

I am forever grateful for the Movie recommendations from Maclin, Rob G, and others who comment here. I have not yet had a good movie recommendation from Art Dec, but maybe he does not see a lot of movies.

My pleasure, Grump.

Turns out that my library does have some copies of Leviathan in stock, so I've put in a request for it.

It's one of those growing movies. You think you've finished watching it, but you keep watching it in your mind for a long time--or at least I do.

I'm afraid to say anything else.


I have bought the video on amazon instant. There is i think perhaps some way of playing a dvd on the tv here but i have not yet tested either mechanism.

"You think you've finished watching it, but you keep watching it in your mind for a long time"

I've seen two movies like that recently. 'Under the Skin,' a strange, creepy little s/f movie with Scarlet Johannesen as an alien masquerading as a human in order to prey on us. Oddly enough, I didn't really think much of it while watching it, but afterwards it stuck with me for days, and is still there, truth be told. I probably need to see it again.

The other is a movie currently running in the theaters, 'Sicario.' On one level it's a very good police drama, but on another it has a measure of moral seriousness that one doesn't often find in cop films. The realistic human element is very strong. It's one of the best movies of its sort I've seen in a long time.

There was something you recommended, Rob, that was really like that and I'm trying to remember what it was. Now I'm kind of wishing I could watch Leviathan again, but I am trying to read more so I probably won't.


I hadn't heard of either of those. That weird Swedish vampire movie, Let the Right One In, had that kind of effect on me.

"I'm afraid to say anything else." Yeah, I would like to discuss some specific things about it, but don't want to give away too much for Rob and Grumpy. Guess I'll just tell you in email for now. I read a synopsis a day or two ago that indicated I had missed a couple of important things.

Oh, and my pleasure, too, Grumpy.

Anybody seen The Martian? I'm actually considering going to a theater and seeing it. A pretty intriguing premise.

There was something I completely missed during the movie. I think it was set up for you to miss it maybe and then at the end, you don't really have time to digest it, but later it sort of unfolded.


Which film is your last comment referring to, Janet?


I was responding to Maclin's next to last post. I was distracted at work and therefore didn't think about the intervening comment.


I saw Leviathan earlier this year. I too thought it was excellent. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, and I had to adjust my expectations as the film progressed, but it packed a wallop in the end.

I'd be curious to read about it. I've little doubt that I missed things, but I wonder what they were?

I also saw Under the Skin, Rob G. Film nuts are nuts over it; I thought it was pretty good. Certainly I can see its interest as a cinematic experiment (ie. incorporating people into the film who didn't know they were being filmed). It's genuinely unsettling, even when one doesn't yet understand what's going on. I thought it had a few elements that didn't seem well thought out (ie. the motorcycle guy). I despised the score (which puts me in a minority). I loved the last shot.

I think, Craig, it would have been quite an experience to have seen it in the cinema, because it really does pull you in. I didn't like the score much as music, but I thought it fit the film well.

Another movie that had that 'stick-with-you' effect on me was the Aussie film 'The Rover.' It's a post-apocalyptic story, and quite violent in spots, but it's more of a drama than an action film. Guy Pearce, who's always good, plays the lead character, but the real surprise is Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame, who plays a simple-minded, troubled criminal. He's outstanding.

Maybe when Grumpy and Rob have watched the movie we can have another post with spoilers.


Has anyone seen Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?


I've been meaning to. Have you?

No. I was looking for some information about an actor who is in a movie I'm writing about and I found that he plays Mr. Norrell in the series. I'm a bit afraid to watch it. There were some really powerful disturbing images in the book. Even reading about them was difficult. I don't know that I want to see them.


Well, I'm afraid to say I didn't care for this one much. I appreciate the high quality of the production, the acting, the cinematography, etc., but man, what a downer! Normally I don't mind that too much in a film, but I think the fact that there were no really likable characters played a large part as well.

Well, I didn't like it at first, and I don't like what it's saying--if I completely understand what it's saying--but the more of thought about, the more things I find to think about. I pretty much agree with you, but I just keep finding things to puzzle about.


I had a lot of sympathy for Kolya, though he wasn't exactly likeable. Also for the boy, and even for the wife, in spite of her betrayal--she seeemed repentant. But it is certainly a downer.

Was she repentant, or did she go out on that beach to meet someone? I've wondered about that.



Yes, I certainly had sympathy for their plight. But I think the negativity may have been overdone.

Did either of you think that the son may have been guilty rather than Kolya?


I don't think there was any question that it was Kolya, but I think it's a mystery who it was.


Anyway, it's certainly an interesting possibility.



I didn't think Kolya was guilty! I thought she committed suicide and Kolya was framed.

According to something or other I read (what was it, Janet?) there is an indication that she was murdered by the mayor's gang. I missed that completely. I assumed that the mention of a head injury was either a lie or a not too surprising effect of jumping into that crashing sea. If the mayor did have her killed, it increases the Job-ness of the story. Although the fact of Kolya being framed was plenty sufficient for that.

And see, this is a good example of what I was talking about above. I keep thinking of things like this.


I don't think you ever told me what it was. It might be in an email, but I can't find it.


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