Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dekalog (1988)

Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski had this idea to make "a cycle" (=series) about the 10 Commandments, how they could be applied to today's life - or the life when this was made, in late 1980's. All ten episodes needed US$100,000 to make, so this was a great success because it made US$3 millions. Comparing this to Julien Duvivier's Le diable et les dix commandements, I must say that I like Duvivier's better, which is funny, shorter, and easier to understand. Take "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain", for example. In Dekalog, the meaning is hidden between the lines, while in Duvivier's version it is as clear as day. Each episode in Dekalog does not have fast paces, but it is intense and demands us to think. Although each commandment has its own episode, sometimes it is difficult to guess which commandment is being told now, unless you have already know which one it is. The shop where I bought the DVD from, sent the 2nd part first, as it was the one on stock, so I started with episode 6. I learned from school that the 6th was "Thou shall not kill" and it was difficult for me to look that message in the particular episode. Later I found that as Poland was a Catholic country, the 6th should be "Thou shall not commit adultery". Characters in all 10 episodes live in the same block of apartment.

One "I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before Me" A brilliant professor and his 10 year old talented son are good with computers. They believe more in science than in God. All religious people know that God is never wrong, but can we depend on science? Is it really safe out there to ski if the computer has calculated that the ice is strong enough?

Two "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" This is one of the episodes with the hidden meaning. It's easier to find how people break this commandment in Hollywood action movies. A woman whose husband is gravely ill in the hospital asks the doctor if her husband will live or die, because she is pregnant by another man. She wants the doctor to swear. If her husband will live, she will have an abortion. Actually it's hard to see if this is relevant. What is more guilty: to stain one's name or to kill a baby? However, in a Catholic world, a sacred marriage is something very important, perhaps more than the life of a baby-to-be.

Three "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" Here, it's not about going to go to church every Sunday morning. A taxi driver chooses to spend a Christmas Eve in helping his ex-mistress looking for her husband than staying home with his wife in the holy night. I myself think that helping people is more important than celebrating Christmas at home. Jesus said: 'What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?' It's a different matter if he goes out with an intention to cheat on his wife, because he will stain the holy day then. Christmas is not that special anyway, because no one knows exactly when Jesus was born. I think it's just wonderful that we have one particular day to say thanks to God because He has come down to earth.

Four "Honor your father and your mother" What if one day we find out that the older man who always live with us, who has taken care of us, is not our father? The story seems silly to me, that the girl in this episode, can fall in love with her father. Sure, it's possible, but there are some moral values which cannot be put aside like that. I like better the Duvivier's approach in this matter. I always think that the one who has poured his love for us all this time is more precious than the biological one who left away.

Five "You shall not murder" A young man murders a taxi driver and gets a death penalty. There is a good question: the young man murders the taxi driver = a crime. The state murders the young man = a punishment. However, when we think about this, legal or illegal, both are murders. "An eye for an eye", it says. 

Six "You shall not commit adultery" A young man spies a female artist every night with his telescope. I think it is called adultery when one of the persons involved is married, but in this case, if I'm correct, none of them is. The woman does have many lovers, but she is not married to any of them. I wonder if the director means 'sex before marriage'.

Seven "You shall not steal" A young woman has a daughter out of marriage and her parents legally adopts the child and people outside know that the child is the young woman's little sister. One day she cannot take it anymore and kidnaps the child. Can we call this stealing, when she takes something that was her own? She is not a good mother for the child, though.

Eight "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" A Jewish-Polish woman who lives in America comes to Poland to attend a lecture about ethics. The professor was the same woman who refused to shelter her during the Nazi occupation. The professor tells her that by turning her out - and she is safe until today, so why bother? - the professor might have saved more lives. It seemed only a white lie, though a lie is a lie. Btw, when I hear this commandment, I always think of Naboth and his vineyard (1 Kings 21).

Nine "You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife" A man, recently found out about his impotence, tells his wife to take a lover. [This reminds me of Lars von Trier's Breaking The Waves] The man had been faithful to her in the past, but she was not like him. When she does take a lover, he becomes jealous and spies on her. The wife loves him too much and decides to break off with her lover, but it is too late. The jealousy has eaten off her husband.

Ten "You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods" Two brothers inherit a highly valuable stamp collection from their father. The same collection had made them suffered in the past, because the old man chose his stamps than his wife and kids. Apparently they don't learn something from this, and in order to complete a rare series, one of them agrees to trade one small square of paper with his kidney. When they found out that a robber had broken into the apartment and the whole collection is gone, all they have left is a little piece of paper. What's more, they suspect each other and almost ruin their relationship.

1 comment:

suzzy said...

Believe it or not, but I watched all ten commandments of Dekalog. I also had trouble figuring out which was which, but I did figure out a few of them. Nevertheless overall I really liked watching Dekalog.