Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘Leviathan’ (2014)

Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

A Russian modern-day epic, Leviathan begins and ends with an images of nature at its most pristine. Gradually the geography becomes more contaminated until we rest on a wreck of a house that’s the fragile link between a one-time unspoiled ancestral heritage of land and its exploitation.

The inciting incident that drives Leviathan, written and directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, centers on that aforementioned house, which overlooks the Barents sea in the north of Russia and which has been passed down to Kolya (Alexei Serebryakov), a rugged, middle-aged car mechanic, over generations. The bad news is the home and the land it sits on has been seized by the town’s rotund, Rob-Fordish-looking mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov), simply because he can.

Kolya, who lives in that house with his teenaged son Roma and much younger wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova), has enlisted the services of his old army buddy Dimitri (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov), an influential lawyer in Moscow, to help regain rights to his home which the mayor intends to use for personal gain.

Initially, Dimitri, nicknamed Dima, believes that he’ll be able to get Vadim to play fair by threatening to blackmail him. Wielding such a strategy often has a payoff. But Leviathan is a relentlessly downbeat story about one person’s powerlessness in the face of a greater controlling entity that evokes Russian nesting dolls. Like a pebble that makes ripples in a pond, women are controlled by men, men are controlled by the typically corrupt police, police are controlled by political figures, and political figures are often under the thumb of the Russian Orthodox clergy who proclaim that all power emanates from God.

Not surprisingly, figuring out who that deity is can get you killed. The “leviathan” of the film’s title refers both to the massive live whale seen barely above the surface in a couple of scenes, and which is a cause for celebrating creation at its most chthonic. But it also refers to man-made leviathan structures that wield power in a similarly impersonal way. And those whale skeletons strewn by the shore, evoking the framework of a house? Evolution has singled out the good leviathans for extinction.

Kolya’s town – and, by extension, every other locale – is a place where vodka is an equal-opportunity, non-gender-specific reality-blurrer that superficially makes life bearable by blotting it out. Even well-meaning neighbors wind up playing into the schemes of a power brokers, tyrants and murderers who occupy higher rungs on the ladder.

Are we owners or merely caretakers of that which means the most to us? Leviathan suggests most of us have neither option.

Archetype: Powermonger, Tyrant, Exploiter, Greed

Astrology Archetype: ♇ (Pluto)




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