Reviews of Crime and Punishment (1866) and related work

Crime and Punishment (1866Text)

Fyodor Dostoevsky (writer).

Read in Swedish translation.

References here: Anna Karenina (1873), The Brothers Karamazov (1879), The Demolished Man (1953), Night Moves (2013).

text fiction

Irrational Man (2015Moving picture, 95 minutes)

Seen in 2015.

A philosophy professor in the contemporary US tries to break out of a depression through a radical selfless act.

Apparently unrelated to the philosophical non-fiction book Irrational Man (1958) by William Barrett. As in Dostoyevsky’s novel, the protagonist is interested in philosophy and constructs an unclear, ostensibly philosophical reason why he should kill someone. As in the novel, the act has unforeseen practical consequences, including suspicion by circumspect and highly improbable means. In the novel, Svidrigaïlov hears Raskolnikov’s confession to Sonya, while in the film, Abe is seen in the lab, and is also seen walking outside on the morning of the murder, after apparently not being seen when he spent many weeks outside at the same hour on the same day of the week in preparation for the murder. In both stories, the murder of an innocent is attempted to cover up the first murder.

The confused motivation for Raskolnikov’s murder is at once a strength and a weakness of the novel: A strength because his conflation of selfish and selfless motives is psychologically realistic, and a weakness because his dream of being a Napoleon does not have enough in common with the Western philosophy it supposedly springs from. That weakness is glaringly apparent in this film version because here the murderer is an acclaimed professor of philosophy. Allen attempts to differentiate the stories by removing Raskolnikov’s initial selfishness from Abe’s murder and pouring all of it into the second, attempted, murder. This is a foolish thing to do, since it should have been quite clear to Abe that he would not escape justice through a second murder. The professor would have stood a good chance of increasing his fame if he had in fact confessed to the first murder to save the innocent who had been arrested for it (in Dostoyevsky’s plot, the innocent gives a false confession).

The attempted second murder is an infiltration of metaphysical evil into the narrative, stupid and distasteful in the late Allen’s bourgeois mode of storytelling. Abe’s idea is branded as evil, not explored, removing the little interest I had left by that point.

moving picture adaptation fiction