Review of The Sacrifice (1986)

Moving picture, 149 minutes

Andrei Tarkovsky (writer-director).

A contemporary bourgeois birthday party in a dysfunctional family is interrupted by the news that World War III has broken out. Global thermonuclear war may commence at any moment. A collector of evidence for paranormal events advises a middle-aged scholar to sleep with his maid while wishing for the war to be undone, on the assumption that his maid is a witch.

Science fiction smothered inside a crisis of faith. Sekai-kei before its time. First, look at the premises: A great director, WW3, a supernatural rationale for adultery, and enough of a budget to build and demolish several entire houses. Now, look at the execution: It’s the same anaemic, claustrophobic bourgeois dramatic style as in Nostalgia (1983). The script is peppered with unmotivated learned references in dialogue that virtually never feels natural. Much more time is spent watching a single person crying hysterically far away from events, than is spent looking at events or even hearing indirect descriptions.

There is no Sontagian “aesthetics of destruction” here, no action, no visceral pleasure, only the slow intellectual grind of excessive social disintegration, doubt and introspection, confined within the long tradition of bullshit known as Christianity. So why is there a supernatural rationale for adultery in the script? It’s probably not a tribute to biblical polygamy. I cannot escape the symptomatic interpretation that pleasure of the simplest kind (“Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I had to get away from my bitch of a wife and fuck some broad from Iceland to save the world?”) has crept into and further soured an already poorly conceived effort, as it soured The Bible (ca. 110 CE). Much of it is pretty, but less so than the bygone heights of Tarkovsky’s work.

References here: Letters from a Dead Man (1986), Visitor of a Museum (1989), The Endless (2017).

moving picture fiction