Thursday, September 13, 2012

Anna Karenina

Went to see Anna Karenina last night - very interesting (though not particularly emotionally engaging - but perhaps that was the intention). The whole thing had this theatre motif running through it, with sliding sage sets and views panning out to reveal that they are framed by theatre sets, and people walking through wings and flies of theatres to get from one scene to another. Most peculiar. It was rather Brechtian in the way it emphasised the unreality and made you think about the themes.

The acting was OK - Keira Knightley as Anna, Jude Law as Karenin (her husband) and a guy I didn't recognise as Anna's lover. Actually didn't recognise Jude Law with a beard! The script was excellent and was by Tom Stoppard (playwright who has also adapted Parade's End for TV, which is on at the moment).

The sets, scenery and so on were stunning in spite of the annoying theatre set thing.

[plot spoiler alert]

So the main point of the story seems to be a reflection on marriage and fidelity. Konstantin (possibly a clue in the name there) loves Kitty - but she is infatuated with Bronsky. Konstantin proposes, but too soon, and has to try again later. At the opening of the story, Steba has been unfaithful to his wife, and Anna goes to persuade the wife to forgive him, which she does. We also see Anna and Karenin together, and it's clear their marriage is solid and virtuous. Then she meets Bronsky and they fall in love, and gradually her resolve not to poach the bloke that Kitty wants, and to remain faithful to her husband, is eroded. But her husband finds it much harder to forgive than Steba's wife does.

When the affair becomes generally known, Anna is shunned by everyone in Society except Steba's wife Dolly, who says she wishes she had done the same.

The fate of Anna is perhaps meant as a warning, or perhaps as a protest against the way women are blamed for adultery (because women's desires were seen as "unnatural"), whereas men's desires were just seen as peccadilloes - "it's what they do". To some extent this is still the case. The 'slut-shaming' of Anna still has contemporary resonance, and her fate is clearly part of the warning. Perhaps Tolstoy had been reading Thomas Hardy... The other question I feel compelled to ask is, why was this film made now, right in the middle of an anti-feminist backlash?

However, I didn't have a lot of sympathy for Anna really; I couldn't see what she saw in Bronsky - the characters I liked were Konstantin and Kitty, and Steba and Dolly, and the wife of Konstantin's revolutionary friend. But then Tolstoy clearly meant Konstantin and Kitty as illustrations of Tolstoyan virtue and simplicity and getting back to the land, so I fell for a trope, dammit. More reviews at Rotten Tomatoes - the consensus appears to be that it's a mixed bag and the artificiality of the theatrical settings detract from it rather than enhancing it.

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