This is PART TWO of a three-part feature. See the full Introduction and PART ONE.
*WARNING*: Because this essay concerns itself with how specific recurring themes/images relate to the development of a film’s narrative arc, it necessarily contains plot spoilers.
In many of his films, Andrey Zvyagintsev situates human beings as sometimes fragile, sometimes powerful forces in nature. Leviathan is only the latest film to explore this motif. Both The Return and Elena examine the struggle of an individual against an oppressive larger system, though the human-made structures turn out to be no match for “irreversible” Nature.
Though Elena seems to offer a different conclusion than The Return, it at least agrees with the premise that humans have a destructive impact on their environment during their however brief time on earth. This motif is established right in the first shot of the film where the camera zooms in with crystal clarity on a tree branch and a lone and fragile bird; harsh urban noise can be heard in the background. We are made to wonder early on if the film is setting up a parallel between a threatened natural world and the lower-income family that is vulnerable to the avarice and greed of the rich.