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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Muddy Sacrifice

I'm going to say a bit more about The Sacrifice by Tarkovsky. Your patience is appreciated.

Okay, summarizing from memory, Alexander prays to a God he hadn't believed in, asking to make a bargain. Assuming my memory and the subtitling are fairly accurate, the terms of his prayer shift in the way our prayers tend to do; he offers a bargain, but is it his request to save the world, to save his family, or simply to be rid of his fear? How much, or how little, does he really value the things he's trying to save or offering to sacrifice? It might have been interesting if God had called Alexander to sacrifice his son, Little Man, like Abraham and Isaac, but that's not the deal God seems to strike here. Instead Alexander's friend, who seems to be a sort of Wise Fool, instructs Alexander to go to his maid Marta and lie with her. He presents this as the solution to their problems. People often sacrifice their families by engaging in adultery, but this is a novel twist on the idea!

An interesting thing happens on the way to Marta's house; Alexander's riding his bike along a muddy dirt road, and he falls off, dirtying his hands in a mud puddle. As soon as I saw that I thought "I'm the kind of goober who'd turn around, go home and wash up." So is our hero; he turns around as if to go home. Then he hears a witchy cry, perhaps of distress, and he turns again. He continues on to Marta's home, muddy hands and all.

When she takes him inside she pours water from a jar into a basin; he washes. It's filmed with subtle sensuality; the water flowing from one vessel into another, washing him clean, carries both an erotic and a spiritual charge. The scene does a marvelous job of sublimating the erotic into the spiritual, or vice versa.

Alexander tells Marta a story about how he tidied up his mother's beloved but messy garden, essentially changing the garden's character from Dionysian to Apollonian, and the result was that the garden lost its tangled beauty, becoming sterile and ugly. Perhaps he realizes that he's made a similarly tidy ruin of his life. Alexander and Marta both weep, and he asks her to love him. I'm sure that in real life there's a slew of domestic workers who'd be much happier if their employers would keep their hands to themselves, but this brief encounter has the fate of the world riding on it.

Their actual coupling is shown as levitation, and that comes closer to the sensation of sexuality than anything I've ever seen in a film. It could easily have seemed like a bad joke, but Tarkovsky invests the scene, and everything that leads to it, with such gravitas that I found it overpowering rather than comical.

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