” You can’t ask why about love.”
Before seeing the film, I already had a set of expectations; I knew that it would be lush and decadent as far as the sets and costumes, I expected at least decent acting, I knew that it would not end happily (not because I read the book but because I looked the story up), and I expected it to be set up in a theatrical manner. A week ago, I had read an interview that Keira Knightley, Anna, did about the film. The interviewer said that she must be very familiar with corsets since she has been in so many period pieces. She replied that she was but that in this movie they were basing the costumes more off of 1950’s couture than 1870’s Imperial Russian fashion, therefore she didn’t have to wear a corset. I was immediately intrigued by this because of the few screen shots I had seen of the film. I had also read that it had been filmed as if it was a play being performed on a stage.
Ten minutes in and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the theatrical theme. A few hours out of the movie and I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. It was different, that’s for sure, but did it fit? The moments when extras are moving around furniture and set pieces are being brought up and down seemed odd to me. Also, the way in which some of the extras moved was as if they were in a musical; flowy and synchronized. It was as if at any moment Keira Knightley was going to break into song and start a dance number. I’m not a musical fan so those elements were lost on me. It also seemed bizarre when actors would be going above the stage or below the stage and it was supposed to symbolize outside or someones house or even a train station.
Again, I didn’t read the novel, however, I’m going to guess that minor parts in the film played a much more influential role in the overall story. For instance, within the first thirty minutes or so Anna arrives at the train station to meet with her brother. She crosses paths, almost walks into, a grease blackened laborer who is hitting the trains wheels for a reason that is unclear to me, but I’m sure was necessary. This moment struck me as odd at first, but then I thought,” Oh ok, they are trying to show the differences in social classes and the growing divide between them that will ultimately lead to the revolution.” Within seconds of her running into him, he is then ripped in half by the wheel of the train. It must have shifted or something and he fell under the wheel. In any case, he is practically cut in half and everyone is understandably upset by this. Anna asks if anything can be done for the man’s family, someone mentions that the man came from a large family, to which Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson) responds and hands a wad of bills to one of the railway attendants. You assume that money should be going to the dead mans family, however, I assumed no such thing because the man was essentially a nobody to society, he didn’t even wear the navy blue with shiny silver buttoned uniform that the man taking the cash had on. I’m going to say he probably pocketed it. But anyway, you never know because it is never brought up again after that.
In the very beginning of the movie, when we first see Anna, she is being dressed by a servant and reading a letter. As the servant moves around her, she, in turn, moves her arms around and angles her head around the servant so she can continue to read her letter. This also seemed to be a comment on the social distortion at the time. Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) has an interaction with one of his field laborers after working with the men in his field. Levin tells the man that the men resent him for being out there with them, to which the laborer responds that it is because they like tradition. Levin then asks the man if he thinks it is the will of God that he was a slave to Levin’s father. The man answers in the affirmative and that basically, life is harder as a free man. I got the idea that these small figments of time were much larger and much more significant in the novel.
On a random note, Levin has two weird interactions with a serf/former serf that lead to nowhere and seem almost pointless. When he first returns from failing at proposing to Kitty (Alicia Vikander), he is walking through the snow to his country estate and she is all bundled up carrying firewood on her back. They exchange glances and make eye contact but both continue to walk. I thought that this was in connection to a previous scene where Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) tells him he should just marry a peasant on his land. Is this foreshadowing a romantic relationship with this peasant? No, although he does make creepy eye contact with her again during his conversation with the field laborer. She smiles at him and then looks away. After this she may as well have spontaneously combusted for all the audience knows because she is never seen again. All of these scenes seem like they were a more significant part of the story but were cut short for the sake of a 2 hour deadline.
Love and relationships were the keystone of the plot. I know this post is already super long but bare with me…I promise to add more pictures to distract you!
Anna, Karenin (Jude Law), and Vronsky were all part of a twisted love triangle. Anna and Karenin did not marry for love although they seem to have grown to love one another over the ten or more years they have been married. They have a son together, Serhoza (Oskar McNamara). Karenin is a very busy aristocratic politician who, according to other characters in the movie, has devoted himself to Russia. This is evident in his negligent relationship with his son, but I’m not going to dive too deep there. It’s just made apparent that Anna is a doting mother in comparison. There they are, living their lives, seemingly separately, until BAM….
…Enter Count Vronsky. Young, Single, Rich, and Handsome. He is supposed to be courting Kitty but immediately drops her like a bad habit upon meeting Anna at a ball. The instantaneous feelings of love from both of them were kind of ridiculous to me. At first Anna tries to avoid their connection but eventually gives up and goes for it.
The dynamic between the two of them is hot from the start. The two “love” scenes that they did were both tastefully done and showed the passion that they had for each other now that they were able to consummate it. Anna still seems torn and guilt-ridden throughout the affair, even though she doesn’t want it to end and continually goes back to him. She also starts making a fool of herself in public over him. For instance, when his horse throws him in the race. She immediately stands up and screams his first name. Which was absolutely not done in that time period.
Literally hours before this scene she was telling Vronsky that she is pregnant with his child. On a similar note, the scenes when she is going to bed with her actual husband were interesting. He would go to his cabinet and pull out this little porcelain/ceramic/expensive looking little rectangular box and open it up and take it’s contents out. When the camera finally shows you a shot of inside of the box, it looked suspect. I guessed condom right away. Old-school sheep’s intestine or something else completely unsexy to even think about. Later on, after Karenin knows about Vronsky and the baby, he still goes to get his condom out like the robot he seems to be. She says something about how she can’t because she is Vronsky’s wife now and he looks like a kid who just lost their ice cream. She ends up leaving her husband, who says he is going to divorce her and she will never see her son again.
As an audience member, I felt sympathy for Anna the entire movie. She is a loving mother who, even after leaving her husband and ostensibly her son, still barrels through their house to see him on his birthday. She had been told she couldn’t see him by a female friend of her husband.
Here she starts to slowly unravel. Everyone in society knows that she has left her husband and is living with Vronsky. Cut to a few dramatic scenes of her receiving dirty looks, being given the cut direct by her former friends, and being talked about behind her back. Oh, and some woman calls her a slut in front of the whole theater.
1874’s Version of the Plastics.
She sees her relationship with Vronsky changing after she has had the baby and has been living with him for a while. She becomes much more jealous and possessive. He starts to crumble under peer pressure to find a real wife. She can’t sleep so she begins taking morphine and generally starts to look like she’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Spoiler Alert…she ends up throwing herself in front of a train, which I guess you could say was foreshadowed by the peasant laborer being killed in almost the same way. When she first walks up onto the platform, you see the train start whizzing past her. She closes her eyes and the screeching from the train almost sounds like screaming. “Forgive me,” is all she says before she jumps. The camera does a slow zoom into her face and at the peace she seems to have found now. No one grieved for her, or at least no one openly grieved for her, besides possibly her brother. He is the only character showing any type of emotion towards her death.
I loved that Keira and Matthew reunited for this film. It was funny to me that they played siblings because they were romantic leads in Pride & Prejudice (2005).
I want to write about the relationship between Oblonsky and Dolly (Kelly MacDonald) and Kitty and Levin, but I feel that this review is already too long to hold anyone other than my own attention. So I will just do a brief paragraph on Kitty and Levin.
Levin is obviously in love with Kitty throughout the whole movie, even though he proclaims to not believe in romantic love. Kitty never seems to be in love with him, even by the end. She seems to care for him, probably because she grew up with him around. He is the best friend of her older sister’s husband. The way she rejects his proposal was the way I say I don’t want to dance with some guy I don’t find attractive at the bar. It’s a kind of forced, awkward, friendly refusal that just seems to drag and make everyone around you uncomfortable. I just knew she wasn’t in love with him. She seemed to be in love with Vronsky and genuinely devastated when he tosses her aside for Anna. Levin sulkily goes back to the country and tells people he will never marry. That is, until a few months later when he happens to see Kitty riding by in her carriage.
Although they don’t come out and say it, this seemed like the moment that Levin realized he still loved Kitty and should give it one more shot. When she greets him she tells him that she is not the same silly young girl she was before, just a few months before. Then they sit down and have a serious conversation involving letter blocks. He asks her if when she said no, that that meant never? To which she responds, then I didn’t know. She doesn’t really explain what she knows now that she didn’t know then. I got the feeling that she now knows the way of the world. She has given up her young love idealizations. She doesn’t hope for a passionate love anymore. Now she is ready to take the safe choice.
Cut to them already being married and her proving she is a great person by nursing his brother and accepting his brother’s ex-prostitute, not legally his wife, wife. If you see the movie you will understand that sentence. Anyway, sometime after Anna commits suicide, Levin comes to the realization of what romantic love is all about and runs into the house to, I guess, tell his wife. She is holding their baby and kind of cuts him off when he says he realized something. I found that scene very odd. They still seemed very awkward around each other. I got the feeling that she loved him, especially after having a child with him, but that she still wasn’t in love with him. There is a major difference.
In the end, the movie wasn’t necessarily sad, but definitely didn’t end happily. I left the theater feeling introspective and sad. I would still recommend it, although I probably won’t buy it when it comes out on DVD.