Leviathan (Leviafan)

Leviathan

It is king over all that is proud.

Of the many things I’ll admit to having run through my mind during my 3 1/2 year odyssey through the List is one thought that I certainly didn’t expect going into the quest, and it is this: Why must there be so much negativity in the world? I don’t merely mean physical negativity like violence and hate, but the kind of negative thinking and reasoning that leads people to do such negative things. This kind of negativity is all too often represented in cinema, by films that either deconstruct the negative thought process, or are otherwise content to wallow in it, making the unrelenting negativity itself the point and primary conveyor of the message. It’s thoughts like these that are basically forced through my mind when I watch films like Leviathan, which many have purported to be basically a modern-day retelling or reimagining of the Biblical story of Job. Now, I’m not all that versed in Biblical study, and indeed I needed to Wikipedia the story of Job after I watched Leviathan to try and make the comparison that others have been making, but after watching this film, I really have to wonder exactly how much this really is an adaptation, of any kind, of the story of Job. Without spoiling too much about Leviathan, the story of Job ends with Job ultimately reaping God’s rewards for the suffering God has put him through, gaining back all he has lost and living to a ripe old age. Leviathan, to put it mildly, does not end this way. Really, Leviathan’s ending, and the ultimate point of the film, just makes me muse and wax philosophical about the evil in the world, and how such evil can go on in the face of concepts like God and justice and human decency.

Kolya is a mechanic living in a coastal Russian town with his wife Lilya and son Roma; Roma having been born from Kolya’s previous marriage. He’s generally short-tempered, and drinks a lot, but rarely lets this really get the best of him, which is a personality truly put to the test when the town’s corrupt mayor Vadim hatches a scheme to buy out Kolya’s land at a much lower price than its value for vague reasons; Kolya personally believes the mayor wants the land to build a private villa for himself. In comes Dmitri, an old friend of Kolya’s, who sets about his own actions towards the mayor in his attempts to get the man to back off and not royally screw Kolya over. Suffice it to say, things happen, Kolya’s breaking point is put through the wringer, and when Dmitri ultimately removes himself from the situation, there’s really nothing else left to happen to Kolya, other than what I laid out above. I really don’t want to spoil Leviathan for those who may want to see it, but it is so hard to talk about the film, especially just after watching it, without discussing how the film’s events are concluded that it becomes almost a moot point in trying to do so. Needless to say, that this film ultimately reminded me of films like Subarnarekha and Europa 51 should do a lot to prepare anyone for this potential watch. As for the technicals, this was a really well-made film, but not in the way really well-made films go about showing off that they are really well-made films; this was subtle, yet it had an air about it that seemed grandiose and timeless, even though the story itself isn’t really all that epic. Director Andrey Zvyagintsev likes to keep his camera deliberately mobile, moving slowly about the scene for whatever reason he has for doing so; I personally couldn’t figure out why he did this, but he was skillful at doing it at the very least, and it seemed to add a bit of enormity to whatever was happening. The acting was also very subdued, as was the overall look of the film; really, the whole film felt like a pot that was fixing to boil over, but instead Zvyagintsev seemed content to hold it at a mere simmer throughout the film’s running time. One last mention goes to the great amount of drinking that takes place during the film; it became, hilariously enough, a drinking game of sorts to see when (not if) someone would bring out a bottle of vodka and pour some for everyone present to gulp down.

I discussed quite a bit in the opener about the negativity in the world, and why it exists or is justified when people continue to go about talking of a just and loving God. This, I think, is the point of Leviathan; that question right there. That the actions of the people in this film toward Kolya, direct or otherwise, are undertaken, all while the people continue to smile and act as if nothing is wrong, or that they are not actually doing anything wrong, is itself exactly the point. That the final scene of the film takes place where it takes place, with the characters that are there, and with the dialogue that is said, is probably the greatest single scene of cosmic irony and subtext in the modern history of cinema. That you have to suffer through everything that happens to Kolya along with him is merely the price to pay to reach this conclusion. There is a lot of power here, and a lot of morality discussed underneath the surface of Leviathan, and I appreciated it a lot more because of how universal the concepts were, as opposed to subtext that only makes sense from, for instance, a Russian standpoint. There’s a lot to be gained from a viewing of Leviathan, and from a certain viewpoint, it can be a rewarding watch. The only caveat is, you really need to gear yourself up for the journey you’re going to ultimately take.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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One thought on “Leviathan (Leviafan)

  1. I believe I referred to this as “a sort of retelling of the story of Job…except more depressing.”

    I’m with you on there seeming to be a large amount of negativity in films. And those tend to be the ones critics love so they get picked for lists like this. For some reason that escapes me they generally feel that a movie that makes you happy is fluff, but a movie that makes you depressed is true art.

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