Tarkovsky's "The Sacrifice" (Offret)

A world on the brink of nuclear war…

Since there is talk of Russia and nuclear war, I have uploaded a copy of Tarkovsky’s film “The Sacrifice”, filmed in Sweden in 1986 and about a world facing nuclear extinction. This was in the context of the Cold War but I suppose is as valid now, as we seem to be retreating into the past…

Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the most celebrated Russian film directors. My favourite film by him is certainly the semi-autobiographical “The Mirror”, followed closely by “Andrei Rublev”, about a Russian monk and icon painter, then the science-fiction ones “Solaris” and “Stalker”. His exile films, at least for me, are not as good as the previous ones filmed in Russia. This one feels like Tarkovsky trying to do a Bergman movie, even having Sven Nykvist as the cinematographer and Erland Josephson as an actor. Still, it is an interesting film. Slow, as anything by Tarkovsky, but with many striking scenes and reflections about the modern world and the meaning of sacrifice.

Many people think that the film was filmed in the island of Fårö, the island made famous by Ingmar Bergman, but in fact Sweden did not allow Tarkovsky to film there, so it was filmed in the nearby large island of Gotland, in an area called Närsholmen. But it is, I think, a bit similar to Fårö, with sparse vegetation (more like a savannah or a marshland) than with very dense forests, as there are in other parts of Sweden.

About that Cold War thing — it is odd that, in some ways, things appear to be inverted, with the U.S. and Russia trading places. Russia is no longer the communist Soviet Union, while the U.S. in the last decades have invaded and bombed different countries “for democracy” with hardly any opposition by the Russians (except in Syria). And yet here we are, with Russia and the U.S. again playing mortal enemies, and Europe stuck in the middle.

Now, in the movie, nuclear war is just an excuse for the theme of apocalypse and redemption, and it is not even clear which war is happening or where. In fact there are hardly any “war” scenes, except for the sound of jets passing nearby, and the film is oddly anachronistic, with costumes and props that certainly look older than the 1980s. In fact, it doesn’t look like an “1980s” movie at all. Which in many ways is good, I suppose…

Here is a recent review of the film by a Russian critic. For a more intellectual analysis of the symbols and religious imagery used in the film, try this essay by Elena Dulgheru.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that there will be a nuclear war over this issue, but the economic crisis derived from the sanctions and the escalation of the conflict will probably last for a long time.