Joe Wright’s new interpretation of Leo Tolsty’s epic Anna Karenina is an audacious spectacle and a worth adaptation. He uses a very unique visual style in the film, placing almost everything on a theater stage. The lives of Imperial Russia are constantly being watched in the big cities and everything that happens is just a performance for the those watching. In doing the film this way, Wright is able to add character clues in the visual style which helps him flesh them out. The book my be 900 pages, but the film can only fit in so much story, so this style allows for more character study without elongating the film. This movie is a visual treat and well worth the price of admission.
There are two main stories in the film and they are the antithesis of each other; there is the love of Levin and Kitty contrasted with the “love” of Anna and Vronsky. The story of Anna and Vronsky is what happens when we allow our carnal natures to run wild and get lost in a sea of obsession and selfishness. Anna has many times that she can say no to this temptation and yet she harbors it in her heart, nourishing her desire until she cannot do anything by give in to the monster she has been feeding. It happens to all people. There are things that look so enticing and yet we know them to be wrong, destructive or unwise. But instead of banishing such ideas or running from them, we give in. Obsession takes over and what would once have seemed impossible to be apart of has become the very thing are engaging in with all our might. Anna and Vronsky’s “love” is an idol that they must serve and it leaves them insecure about their place in this world and with each other. Anna especially can never be reassured enough that she is fully loved and accepted. Her deceit, selfishness and obsession have left her empty and like so many of us, she just looks for more of what is not working to satisfy her. Her desire is insatiable because she is drinking from the wrong well.
Her moment of realization and awakening comes as she sits at the opera house she can see the way people look at her and treat her. She is the laugh of the town, seen as a fool. There is always a moment where our choices reach up and finally slap us in the face and we can see clearly what we have become. It is in that moment that we have the choice to continue down the road of destruction or to turn around and find a new path. Anna decides that the only course of action is to follow the rabbit hole as far as it goes. It leads her to morpheme and death. She becomes the embodiment of the Proverb, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
The desolation of this story is contrasted with the beauty that is Levin and Kitty. She rebuffs his early proposal, swept up in the bonds of infatuation with Vronsky. Levin is heartbroken and returns to his country home, yet try as he might, his love for Kitty is never extinguished. For all the talk of love in this movie, their’s it the most pure. They do not love the selfish idea of love, but the person. They both commit themselves to more that fleeting pleasures and mere sexual desire; longing for the promise of mutual care and support. Love in the end is not for personal gain but the betterment of another.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13 ESV