Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Review: Leviathan

Biblical proportions

By Morris Dean

I can’t remember another Russian film I’ve seen recently, but if there are others of the caliber of Leviathan (2014, directed and co-written by Andrey Zvyagintsev), I would like to see them. The setting is the fictional Russian town Pribrezhny, for which serves the actual coastal town of Teriberka, whose shores are littered with the hulls of broken boats and the huge skeletal remains of a whale, which seems to be the symbolic touchstone of the film’s title. It might even be a reference to the whale in the Book of Jonah, because the film abounds in biblical and Orthodox Christian references: encounters with clergy of the Orthodox Church, a church ruin where teenagers gather to drink, away from their parents, and, especially, an explicit comparison of the central character, Kolya, to Job.
    Kolya is being forced to give up his property by the town’s corrupt mayor, who is assisted by the police and the courts, all of whom seem to be in his pocket, and in the course of the film Kolya is subjected to loss and affliction on the scale of Job’s.
    According to Wikipedia’s article, Zvyagintsev was inspired by the story of Marvin Heemeyer in Granby, Colorado. In 2004, Heemeyer became enraged over the outcome of a zoning dispute regarding a concrete factory constructed opposite his muffler shop, and armored a bulldozer and demolished the town hall, the former mayor’s house, and other buildings before killing himself.
    “But,” continues the article, “critics compare the story [of Leviathan] to the more similar biblical story of Naboth’s vineyard.” Naboth owned a small vineyard on the eastern slope of a hill southwest of the Sea of Galilee, close to the palace of the king, who wished to acquire it for a garden of herbs. But Naboth refused to sell it to the king, which put the king into a funk. To revive his spirits, the king’s wife plotted to kill Naboth by mock trial, so her husband could take possession. This allusion does seem more important and pertinent, given all of the religious overtones of the film.
    The mayor may be corrupt, but he is devout and attends church and confession regularly, whenever he is able. And the local bishop provides spiritual comfort, telling the mayor that all power comes from God and encouraging him to solve his problems forcefully.
    Kolya has recruited a lawyer friend from Moscow to help fight the expropriation of his property, supposedly to build a telecommunications mast, although Kolya believes that the mayor’s real plan is to build a villa for himself. By the time of the mayor’ consultation with the bishop, Kolya’s lawyer has had an affair with Kolya’s wife, and his attempt to blackmail the major now provokes a forceful reply, compounding Kolya’s afflictions. And if the whale skeleton on the beach is symbolic of awesome power (whether secular or divine), the structure erected on Kolya’s property after he has been evicted is even more symbolic of the true central corruption of the story. My recommendation is that this movie is not to be missed.
    And I hope that Bob Boldt will watch Leviathan and be inspired to reflect on it in the same insightful way he reflected on Calvary (on May 3).

Copyright © 2015 by Morris Dean

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