This is PART THREE of a three-part feature. See the full Introduction, PART ONE, and PART TWO.
*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.
At one point in Leviathan, a character muses that the human “is the most dangerous animal” of all. But unlike Elena, and more similar to The Return, Leviathan reminds us of Nature’s leveling effect. As the film opens, the camera gives us a glimpse of Russia’s grandeur with shots of the Baltic’s rocky coastline, and then muddy rotted hulls of ships. Then we see a single house, bearing up against the elements—but for how long? The home is that of Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), a mechanic, and Lilya (Elena Lyadova), who works in a fish plant. Their nemesis is Vadim (Roman Madyanov), the greedy and corrupt mayor who wishes to purchase the land.