Film: ‘Anna Karenina’ (2012)

Focus Features

Rules that are emblazoned onto the fabric of a culture have lives of their own. And in Joe Knight’s take on the Tolstoy classic “Anna Karenina,” set in Russia, in 1874, Anna (Keira Knightley) finds out just how unforgiving those regulatory Saturnine moral pronouncements can be.

Based in St. Peterburg, where she lives with her husband – the proper but emotionally absent Karenin (Jude Law) – and young son, Anna has traveled to Moscow to set her married philandering brother straight. There she meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a young military officer who’s smitten with her. Anna throws Saturn’s hallmark caution to the wind, dives into a heady affair that results in a pregnancy, and begins referring to Vronsky as her husband.

Karenin tries to keep Anna’s amorous pursuit under wraps for the sake of decorum. Society, on the other hand, is not so forgiving. Anna is punitively ostracized. As one female friend tells her, “If you’d committed a crime, I could see you. But you broke the rules.”

Wright frames the narrative using the formality of theatrical staging, which reinforces that, for Anna, living an authentic life – one without parameters – is a full-blown challenge. Sound speaks volumes, too. Wright suffuses movement with sudden jolts of the slamming of weighty doors, fireworks, the chugging of motor trains, and even Karenin’s disproportionately loud knuckle-cracking. The auditory onslaught underscores that Anna’s passionate affair is a massive Plutonic wake-up call – noisy, disruptive and deeply transformational. But as it all goes downhill, the deadly side of Pluto emerges.

Love as a life-or-death matter is Venus and Pluto working tragically in tandem. In Anna’s case, can dying for love be far behind? As Anna tells Vronsky from the get-go: “This is the end of everything.” She was right.

Rating: ♀♇ (Venus/Pluto) and ♄(Saturn)

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