Anna Karenina (2012)

Rated R. Our ratings: V -2; L -1; S/N -5. Running time: 2 hour 10 min

You shall not commit adultery.
Exodus 20:14

You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ” This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” Matthew 15:7-9

Even though she is married, Anna falls in love
with the dashing officer Prince Vronsky.

2012 Focus Features

Tolstoy’s great classic is transferred to the screen in a stylist manner by director by Joe Wright that separates it from the over two dozen earlier screen versions. The filmmakers confine at least half of the action to a theater, the characters interacting not only on the stage, but on the floor where the seats have been removed, in the wings, and even high up in the loft among the ropes, pulleys and sandbag weights. Apparently they intend this theatrical setting to reflect Russian society where virtually everyone is pretending to be what they are not.

The film focuses not only upon the adulterous affair of Anna (Keira Knightley) with Prince Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and society’s hypocritical reaction to them, but also upon the purer love of Kitty and Levin Kitty (Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander), unlike earlier versions of the film. They are innocent young aristocrats that serve as stand-ins for Tolstoy himself in that he has freed his serfs and works alongside them in his fields.

As mentioned earlier, most of the characters are confined to the theatrical stage, an actor walking through a door to another scene, or up or down stairs to reach another room. A couple of times the camera switches from a toy train to the larger, obviously fabricated one which transport Anna back and forth between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Only Levin is allowed to walk through a door to a true outdoor scene, a measure emphasizing his authenticity as a human being, especially when compared to the theatricality of all the other characters except Kitty.

A gorgeous spectacle to the eye thanks to the costumes and clever staging, we should be hearing more about this film when Oscar buzz commences. The film shows well the price that is paid by one who breaks the rules that society itself breaks, but in secrecy rather than in the open. The approaching upheaval is also suggested (the time is the late 19th century) when Levin makes the interesting observation, “Romantic love will be the last delusion of the old order.”

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think of Anna Karenin: is she victim or perpetrator? What do you think of what the Countess Nordston says about her, “Anna isn’t a criminal, but she broke the rules!” ?

2. What kind of a person is Count Vronsky? Do you see him as one of life’s takers or givers?

3. Anna tells Dolly, whose husband has betrayed her, “You have to forgive him.” Does she? How does this become ironical for Anna? Anna’s husband Karenin later “forgives” her, but is it heartfelt, or is he only following “the rules” ?

4. Compare Levin and Kitty to the other characters. What do you see the meaning of his remark, “Sensual desire indulged for its own sake is the misuse of something sacred.” What other goal, other than pleasure, do you think one’s “sensual desire” can have?

5. Knowing that the author Tolstoy was a mystical Christian, how can the judgment of God be seen in the story? (And for a delightful film that portrays Tolstoy and his wife during the last ear of his life, be sure to watch The Last Station, starring the wonderful Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer.)

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think of Anna Karenin: is she victim or perpetrator? What do you think of what the Countess Nordston says about her, “Anna isn’t a criminal, but she broke the rules!” ?

2. What kind of a person is Count Vronsky? Do you see him as one of life’s takers or givers?

3. Anna tells Dolly, whose husband has betrayed her, “You have to forgive him.” Does she? How does this become ironical for Anna? Anna’s husband Karenin later “forgives” her, but is it heartfelt, or is he only following “the rules” ?

4. Compare Levin and Kitty to the other characters. What do you see the meaning of his remark, “Sensual desire indulged for its own sake is the misuse of something sacred.” What other goal, other than pleasure, do you think one’s “sensual desire” can have?

5. Knowing that the author Tolstoy was a mystical Christian, how can the judgment of God be seen in the story? (And for a delightful film that portrays Tolstoy and his wife during the last ear of his life, be sure to watch The Last Station, starring the wonderful Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer.)

Focus Features