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 Over the weekend, courtesy of my friends at Netflicks, the wife and I watched what may be the most under appreciated film in quite some time, The Last Station.

Beautifully filmed while adhering closely to period costume, architecture, and environment (1910 Russia) the drama examines both noetically and pneumatically the final year of the life of the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoi.

Christopher Plummer portrays Tolstoi, perhaps capping an illustrious acting career with a role that succeeds on every level in capturing both the writer’s genius and spirit. The man even looks like Tolstoi.

The English actress Helen Mirren plays Tolsoi’s wife with a vicious tenacity of a woman, not so much scorned, but rather reduced in her role as matriarch, lover, and wife by a spiritually absent and failed husband.  Reduced in circumstance, she is, in her dotage, determined to both protect her family and its place in society and to save her love for Tolstoi, her paramour and husband as he confronts and engages God.

Both Mr. Plummer and Ms. Mirren are deserving of Academy Awards. Unfortunately, Hollywood is a poor judge of such things.

Paul Giammatti plays the leader or the factor of a group, perhaps the Doukhobors (Spirit Fighters) that Tolstoi was helping at the end of his life, with a decided panache. Giammatti’s character, and I do apologize for not remembering his Russian name, manages to capture the fervor of the fanatical true believer who uses Tolstoi’s fame to gain money and power for his organization and who, never-the-less is also a man seeking God. He has a wonderfully written line, perfectly delivered, where he counsels one of his associates to keep the Countess Tolstoi away from her dying husband, because she’d try to bring a priest and “..we don’t need it to get out that he turned back to the church.” Giammatti’s acting talents provide the audience with some idea of the spiritual and political turmoil active in Russia during this pre-revolutionary period.

This is an outstanding film that, I think, captures the essence of Tolstoi’s last days and his sundry relationships particularly with his wife. I think it might have better explicated or illustrated Tolstoi’s quest for the Divine, a quest that had elements of von Schelling’s explanation that love can only exist in a condition where both God and being are free to act independently, to freely choose to love, and to define a “free expression of self only if it respects the same in the other.” Perhaps, Tolstoi was on the right course, seeking the Whole through the fragments where “ . . . being is not my being, for everything is only of God, or of the All.”

But, it is difficult for me not to think that, in the end, Tolstoi like all of us, is to some extent, Nekhlyudov, the primary character in his novel Resurrection. And, the movie succeeds in portraying the flaws of this literary genius who  abandoned his wife and family, turned to world-system philodoxers, and who, like Nekhlyudov, was eager to atone in order to achieve an existential “rush”, the gratification in the act of seeking forgiveness in the rejection of the material.

More on: Film, Religion, Russia

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