Review and Comments on Anna Karenina—Guest Post by the Blonde Bombshell

Blonde Bombshell at the beach
Blonde Bombshell at the beach
The movie itself is quite enjoyable. The opening is a little jarring, as the movie mixes “stage” settings with “movie” settings. The characters will march across the stage or climb steps and find themselves on the catwalk above the stage amongst the ropes and pulleys, or be guided into a plainly “non-stage” setting. It takes some time to get used to this presentation, which seems to echo a Russian ballet. This could work if Anna were a ballerina, or if there is some substantial link between the story and characters and with the peculiar staging. The movie would have been improved had this cute but distracting device been abandoned.

The costumes are a pleasure to behold, but good luck to the retailers trying to cash in on the Anna Karenina look. The costumes are completely of their time, and very difficult to update without losing their essence and beauty (and their utter impracticality).

There is the requisite ballroom scene that involved a dance with complicated steps and absurd hand movements that looked like this.

The acting was wonderful. The actor who played Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has an uncanny resemblance to Gene Wilder, with blond hair and watery blue eyes. It is a little shocking to see on IMDB that he was born in 1990. The standout performance is by Alicia Viklander, who played Kitty. She perfectly captures the trembling moment when a girl reluctantly accepts an imperfect reality and becomes a woman. When Hollywood starts passing out awards, I sincerely hope she is on the list.

Anna Karenina isn’t the first modern novel, but Anna Karenina is perhaps the first modern character, with Isabelle Archer close behind, and Hedda Gabler bringing up the rear.

The story of Anna Karenina isn’t only about the title character, but of many others, most significantly Levin. Levin is a landowner caught between the old world and the new; he searches for faith and ultimately finds it.

In Tolstoy’s novel, Levin muses to himself (with apologies regarding the length; this is Tolstoy, after all):

“Yes, what I know, I know not by reason, but it has been given to me, revealed to me, and I know it with my heart, by faith in the chief thing taught by the church.

“The church! the church!” Levin repeated to himself. He turned over on the other side, and leaning on his elbow, fell to gazing into the distance at a herd of cattle crossing over to the river.

“But can I believe in all the church teaches?” he thought, trying himself, and thinking of everything that could destroy his present peace of mind. Intentionally he recalled all those doctrines of the church which had always seemed most strange and had always been a stumbling block to him.

“The Creation? But how did I explain existence? By existence? By nothing? The devil and sin. But how do I explain evil?…The atonement?…

“But I know nothing, nothing, and I can know nothing but what has been told to me and all men.”

And it seemed to him that there was not a single article of faith of the church which could destroy the chief thing—faith in God, in goodness, as the one goal of man’s destiny.

Under every article of faith of the church could be put the faith in the service of truth instead of one’s desires. And each doctrine did not simply leave that faith unshaken, each doctrine seemed essential to complete that great miracle, continually manifest upon earth, that made it possible for each man and millions of different sorts of men, wise men and imbeciles, old men and children—all men, peasants, Lvov, Kitty, beggars and kings to understand perfectly the same one thing, and to build up thereby that life of the soul which alone is worth living, and which alone is precious to us.

Lying on his back, he gazed up now into the high, cloudless sky. “Do I not know that that is infinite space, and that it is not a round arch? But, however I screw up my eyes and strain my sight, I cannot see it not round and not bounded, and in spite of my knowing about infinite space, I am incontestably right when I see a solid blue dome, and more right than when I strain my eyes to see beyond it.”

Levin ceased thinking, and only, as it were, listened to mysterious voices that seemed talking joyfully and earnestly within him.

“Can this be faith?” he thought, afraid to believe in his happiness. “My God, I thank Thee!” he said, gulping down his sobs, and with both hands brushing away the tears that filled his eyes.

This passage has been compressed by Tom Stoppard into a conversation that Levin has with the peasant Theodore:

THEODORE (scathing)
Well, you don’t press people hard, but you live rightly, for your soul, not your belly.

My soul! What’s that? I know what my belly is. How do we know what’s rightly? I believe in reason.

Reason? And was it reason that made you chose a wife?

LEVIN (pause)

You’re a great one for reasoning, Konstantin Dmitrich, but what’s rightly is outside your mathematic—that’s what’s rightly about it!

With the scales dropped from his eyes, Levin puts down his tool and runs home to his wife and baby. While I don’t object to screenwriting shortcuts, I do object to the change of the lesson. The movie suggests that the meaning of life is rooted in hearth and home, rather than an enduring faith.

In the movie, Anna has picked some modern feminist thought. After telling Vronsky that she is pregnant with their child, he encourages her to run away. She moans, “I would never see my son again. The laws are made by husbands and fathers.”

In the novel, after discovering her pregnancy, Anna writes her husband:

“After what has happened, I cannot remain any longer in your house. I am going away, and taking my son with me. I don’t know the law, and so I don’t know with which of the parents the son should remain; but I take him with me because I cannot live without him. Be generous, leave him to me.”

She is evidently unconcerned with the details of the laws made by husbands and fathers and tries to see a clear path through the mess she’s in.

As for Anna, how far we have come! Today’s Anna would have easily dispensed with her husband, moved out, and maintained custody of her son. If alimony proved to be insufficient, she would have the option of enrolling in some state-sponsored welfare plan that would ensure food, housing, healthcare, and education. Surely after the baby is born she will find time to take some courses at the local community college. Count Vronsky may or may not move in, and if it “didn’t work out” between them, she would have moved on, and not slipped under the wheels of a train.

Even with a vast array of options provided by a benevolent state, her soul would still be in immortal peril. Tolstoy knew this, and therein is the tale.


  1. Ken

    After getting to the fourth paragraph to read: “It is a little shocking to see on IMDB that he was born in 1990.” did it occur to me to which version of this movie was being reviewed (I didn’t know there was a re-re-re-…make just recently).

    Observing the key salient point (from elsewhere), that Keira Knightley, is not only in this movie but playing the leading role …. well…. how seriously can one take it???

    Each version of a movie is a new work of art fine-tuned by the re-re-re-…makers to their particular concept of what fine “art” is or should be.

    Like spray point graffiti over a nature display. Art is all in the eye of the beholder.

    To suggest, or “object”(!), it should have been different is one-step removed from censorship. A direct affront to freedom. Think about that.

    I bet somewhere in the credits or other there’s a disclaimer that the movie is “based on” so & so’s original work — NOT that the movie is a true & faithful rendering of the original work.

    The problem isn’t any noted issue with the movie…the review cannot accept reality:

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
    Taking, as He did, this sinful world
    as it is, not as I would have it;
    Trusting that He will make all things right
    if I surrender to His Will;
    That I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with Him
    Forever in the next.

    –by Reinhold Niebuhr

  2. Briggs


    What’s this? Quoting prayers? My goodness, what’s next, attending mass?

    Here’s where Niebuhr received his inspiration:

    I confess to almighty God,
    and to you, my brothers and sisters,
    that I have sinned through my own fault,
    in my thoughts and in my words,
    in what I have done,
    and in what I have failed to do;

    Which sounds better in the Latin.

  3. Briggs

    And here is the Latin (if I have the HTML right):

    Confìteor Deo omnipoténti
    et vobis, fratres,
    quia peccávi nimis
    cogitatiòne, verbo,
    ópere et omissióne,
    mea culpa, mea culpa,
    mea maxima culpa.

  4. Ken


    The recent trend on this blog to espouse religion–without defining, at all, what religion is … is “bad.”

    Reason: “Religion” or even defined as “Christianity” has become a pretty much meaningless term.

    Because of “moral relativism” — which intrudes into just about everything…including topics such as “moral relativism” where “moral relativism” is being “rebutted.”

    Case in point: Today’s headline (from: ): “National Cathedral to perform same-sex weddings”

    Consider this quote:

    “The Very Rev. Gary Hall, the cathedral’s dean, said performing same-sex marriages is an opportunity to break down barriers and build a more inclusive community “that reflects the diversity of God’s world.”

    “”I read the Bible as seriously as fundamentalists do,” Hall told the AP. “And my reading of the Bible leads me to want to do this, because I think it’s being faithful to the kind of community that Jesus would have us be.”

    “Celebrating same-sex weddings is important beyond the Episcopal Church, Hall said. Church debate is largely settled on the matter, allowing for local decisions, he said.”

    There’s a case of “moral relativism” being used to reach a decision that most “conservative” Christians find impossible to reconcile with seemingly “black & white” stipulations from the very same reference.

    There’s a LOT of such inconsistencies between so-called “Christian” “religions” nowadays; e.g. from a public policy perspective is science correct about a multi-billion year old Earth & evolution [as R. Catholic Church supports] or not [as fundamentalists assert] — these have significant implications for school curricula, in many places, and the list goes on.

    When a speaker/blogger/etc. can advocate “religion” or “Christianity” or ‘etc.’ and the words used are being stretched to include and exclude the very same ‘things’…when the same words can be applied to mean anything…the words are meaningless.
    That’s what religion/Christianity has come to in the USA today–of course, any adherent to a particular denomination would argue with smug assurance that they’ve ‘got it right’ … to any objective outsider looking in there’s really no way of knowing anymore which version is “right”/”correct.”

    One would think that the R. Catholics, with their history going back as far as it does would probably have the right doctrine…but that institution’s untrustworthy behavior calls even that into question (consider the ruling this week in Caif. from a judge mandating disclosure of pedophile info…one would think that a truly “religious” organization would not–could not–even have such info in its possession possible as such deeds simply ought not occur).

    When society is creating “God” in so many mutually exclusive forms — to pretend that society is not seriously & fundamentally fragmented in a very ominous way is to ignore a very important facet of reality. And to pretend that asserting onself as a “Christian” (for example) or that “religion” matters actually means anything in such a society–without clearly defining what those terms mean to the speaker/writer…is to allow for them to mean whatever anyone wants. Which is to say they mean nothing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *