Features

“King over all that is proud”: Nature vs the Humans in the Films of Andrey Zvyagintsev (PART THREE)

Leviathan 1

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.

Leviathan

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.

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“King over all that is proud”: Nature vs the Humans in the Films of Andrey Zvyagintsev (PART TWO)

Screenshot 2015-11-02 at 8.53.47 AM

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.

Elena

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.

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“King over all that is proud”: Nature vs the Humans in the Films of Andrey Zvyagintsev (PART ONE)

Screenshot 2015-10-30 at 8.29.45 AM

This is PART ONE of a three-part feature. See my previous post for the full Introduction.

*WARNING*: Because this essay is concerned with how specific recurring themes/images relate to the development of a film’s narrative arc, it necessarily contains plot spoilers.

The Return

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.

The Return‘s opening shot of the sunken boat—echoed in Leviathan—is paired with a follow-up scene of young Ivan (Ivan Fyodorovich Dobronravov), clinging fearfully to the railing of what looks like a makeshift lighthouse, from which the older boys are diving into the ocean. Though the implication is that some humans are just not strong enough to withstand elemental forces, the outcome of the film urges us not to make exceptions.

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