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Darrel Manson

The Return

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As I thought of this as parable of relating to God, I was reminded of seeing Julia Sweeney do her new monologue a couple weeks ago (see the theatre forum). She is so in line with Ivan saying "We could love you if you were different."


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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I don't think anyone here has commented yet on the documentary that comes with the film on the DVD. I just finished watching it, and while there isn't that much about the film's spiritual resonances in there, the director does make an interesting observation about the photos at the end of the film: he says they represent the happy memories that people have when they look back on a period of suffering. I find this striking, since the .sig quote in my e-mail for the last year or two has been this line from Chris Marker's La Jet


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Whoa -- I thought this film had already played in Vancouver, and that I had missed it, but now the Pacific Cinematheque claims that it will be hosting the film's Vancouver premiere April 22-28! Mark your calendars, Vancouverites.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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SAw this last night, on DVD but with my new home cinema system it was always going to be memorable, and boy was it.

Visually, as has been said, this is just one big wow. If only I had enough photographic / composititory vocabulary to rave about this one I would.

I felt a bit like Ron did after he watched it, and so was keen to catch everyone's comments. I had no idea about the Christ image at the start so I was left with trying to piece things together on the basis that I knew there had been some very positive things said about it here. No-one yet has mentioned the number of God shots in this film, which were considerable IIRC.

One thing I really wondered was how this film would play to a Russian audience. I seem to recall hearing that Russian fathers are much tougher than your standard (modern day) British, American or Canadian father, and that the culture generally is much more withdrawn. I wasn't sure whether much of what the film was driving at was trying to hold a mirror up to those suppressed emotions so that the Russian culture could see itself, but I also wondered whether the view of the father as abusive would really be the one a Russian audience would have been left with. For example, I'm not sure a Victorian audience would have disapproved of the slap round the face or the lesson in the rain as much as we do. Not sure where I'm headed with that other than to say we tend to presume our own culture is correct, and on this issue I can' consceive that it isn't, but I also recognise that it is a cultural understanding rather than a universal one.

I guess there was a lot of stuff about memories and the photos particularly are interesting in that respect. Did anyone else pick up that the Father is almost entirely absent from them? Part of me took this and considered (but rejected) a Lynch-esque interpretation that the father had just been a interpolation of the childrens' conflicts with each other as they went on their own road trip. The whole sinking boat thing tied into this as well, but like I say I rejected it. I think it was the box thing that led me to reject it, which was strange as that really reminded me of Mullholland Drive. (FWIW I assumed that the box contained the takings of some robbery that the father had been put away for - hence explaining his absence and adding a new motivation for the trip)

One other other abstract thought I had. I wondered (just now) if there was something in the boat thing to do with crossing to the other side, either the journey to death, possibly a resurrection thing, or dying to parts of ourselves, or whatever, not sure what but there was sopmething in the imagery that reminded me of that. I think it was the way the father was laid out in a boat like the Vikings used to do.

Matt

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Glad you loved it, Matt.

I think I may have thought the same thing regarding the box, although it could also be looked at as either a mcguffin or perhaps the wedge that stands between the father and a relationship with his two estranged children. In either case,

I suppose it is more metaphorical than anything else.

Your comments make me want to see it again, and soon.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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: I think I may have thought the same thing regarding the box,

Great minds think alike? It feels a bit silly having seen the whole thing to have come up with a detailed plot point in what is a very visual, metaphoric, meditative movie, but I thought I'd share it anyway.

: Your comments make me want to see it again, and soon.

biggrin.gif I always like it when my comments do that.

Matt

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Wonderful thread, and very helpful, having found this a bit of a head-scratcher after watching it last night. I think my initial reaction mirrors Darrel's initial reaction to seeing the film, but I realized as I watched that the first viewing was a beginning, not an end, to evaluating this film. I certainly wasn't as enthralled with it as others -- not even on a visual level -- until the last half-hour or so, although it held my interest.

spoilers1.gif below.

Let me toss out a question that's nagging at me: Rather than seeing this as a story about fathers and sons, or about God and us, is it possible that the narrative is, in some way, picturing in a new way the interaction between Christ and his disciples? They never seemed to "get" him during his ministry, even as he gradually revealed himself to them. They did slowly come to understand his love for them, even after his constant criticisms of their slowness to learn what they should have understood previously, right?

I'm thinking that these kids had gained some understanding of this individual over the years, but only after he appears do they slowly come to understand what he looks like, how his discipline can be loving, and how he's willing to die to save them.

Here's what's fueling this interpretation (I haven't gone back to rewatch the film because I finished it very late last night, so please shoot this down if it's incorrect [in which case, I'll really look foolish!]): Doesn't the God-like character die on FRIDAY? Saturday arrives with the boys still confused about what's occurred. I was waiting with baited breath to find out what SUNDAY would bring, but the film left me hanging... huh.gif

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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spoilers1.gif below.

Let me toss out a question that's nagging at me: Rather than seeing this as a story about fathers and sons, or about God and us, is it possible that the narrative is, in some way, picturing in a new way the interaction between Christ and his disciples? ...

I don't think there's anything in the film that would support that.

They did slowly come to understand his love for them, even after his constant criticisms of their slowness to learn what they should have understood previously, right?

I think it's a stretch to say that the boys should have done things differently, that they were somehow at fault for not pleasing or understanding their father. He was a self-centred, mean jerk.

...but only after he appears do they slowly come to understand what he looks like, how his discipline can be loving, and how he's willing to die to save them.

His discipline was loving? And how did his death a willing death? And how did it save them - except from the fact that it saved them from him and his violence?

Sorry if I'm a bit terse in phrasing my questions, here - I don't feel as belligerent as my rather direct questions sound. But I've only got a minute, and those are the questions I'd need answered to think the "Jesus And His Disciples Reading" was possible.

Over to you, good sir!

Ron


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Excellent questions. I had to return the movie and didn


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I also was watching the weekday symbolism... The father does die on Friday. The Sunday-Easter experience, though, such as it is, comes at the beginning of the film, not the end.

Of course the Sunday experience is a blend of Easter (return) and Good Friday (mourning the dead Christ) imagery, and in the end instead of a resurrection and ascension the father descends to a watery sheol.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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But perhaps the photos at the end of the film act as an Easter resurrection of sorts a bit as they do in Cool Hand Luke?

It seems a bit beyond coincidence that the only weekdays named in the titles are Monday, Thursday and Friday.

Matt

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Stef, you knew the older boy drowned shortly after filming ended, right?  So sad...

I saw this film over the weekend, and I'm still working through this thread, but this made me stop. And gasp. And my heart sank, too. All I can do is just sit here staring for a bit....

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It was extremely tragic. In the same lake featured in the film, too.

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What was he doing at the same lake? Did he live by there?

Curious.

That is such a bizarre tragedy. I can still see him in in my mind's eye getting thumped on the head from his dad.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I'll be honest and say I didn't get it. I thought the film was beautiful.

I thought it was captivating. I came away not having a clue why it

was made or what I was supposed to take from it.

I feel like I was dropped in a story that left its characters right where

it started, without the elements that make a good circular story.

Yes, I wanted to know what was in the box. But more than that, I just

wondered what the viewer was supposed to have gained. A dad who

seems to be caring with abusive tendencies that need to be worked

out in some therapy sessions, two kids -- one relatively trusting, the

other a stubborn brat, a caring mother we don't know much about. I'm

not sure I quite catch any parallels to Abraham and Isaac. Anyone care

to explain?

If this is a parallel to God and Russia, are we supposed to assume we

were better off before "God" came back? If so, then what? Is it a giving

up? A challenge to be more loving? Merely a picture? I'm lost =0)

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Hey, JennyLynne, if you're still there...I don't know if you read the entire thread or not, but I recommend going back and reading some of particuarly after Ron expresses a desire to hear more specifics from people who loved the film. I, especially, appreciate the specific insights from SDG and Jeffrey. Also, Husker (I think) made an interesting remark about how Russia has not been allowed to believe in God, until recently (relatively speaking anway). Like Ron, I wasn't entirely convinced that this was a spiritual/"Christian" movie, so I appreciate the coversation that percipitated afterwards.

I just want to jump on some of the comments so far (especially SDG, Jeffrey, and Ron):

(spoilers)

First, I think SDG first brought up the idea that sometimes we perceive God as being cruel, unfair and unjust. (There are passages in the Old Testament that still cause me to wonder.) I think that interpretation seems consistent with the film. The filmmaker seems to set-up the father as the typical mean, abusive and even criminal father we so often see in films. That's a big part of the suspense in this film. The twist turns out to be that he may not be like that stereotypical character.

One interpretation of the ending and meaning of the film is that our misunderstanding of God leads can lead to his death and absence from our lives. The younger son is afraid of his father and runs away. But the father is really trying to protect the son, not hurt him. This fear indirectly leads to his father's death.

The film could be asking viewers to question our perception of God (Perhaps, specifically for Russian audiences who feel abadoned and mistreated by God, as husker brings up). That what we consider mistreatment may in fact be loving acts. If we are not careful, the movie could be saying, this misunderstanding can lead to God's absence in our lives. (And if indeed the father dies on Friday and we don't see what happens on Sunday, perhaps the filmmaker is saying that whether God is resurrected or *returns* is up to us.) The interpretation is not so bleak to me.

I saw this film several months ago, so I don't know if the film supports this view or not.

I have to say that a disagree a bit with Ron's view of the father as undeniably cruel (e.g. "He was a self-centered, mean jerk.") I'm not as certain as he is about that. There is so much we don't know about the father and his motivations in the film, which is the director's intention. I do believe the director wants us to assume the father is an abusive person to set up the suspense and maybe make us question our own perceptions. Again, sometimes God seems cruel and unjust, but maybe the fault is in our perception and not God. I think one of filmmaker's intent is for us to question these perceptions.

Thanks again to everyone who gave specific reasons and cited specific scenes to support their opinions. I love that.

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I just saw The Return. I felt like I was watching a Tarkovsky film! (I know many of you did too.)

So is the "father" God? I think not. He was absent too long. (Maybe Bergman would agree with his absence.)

But then he tried to save his son. And died doing so.

OK. God did not try to save Jesus! (I have never understood why Jesus was "left" to die on the Cross... "For our sins"... what does that mean? )

So the absent father, abusive, in the movie gave his life to save his son.

While the "present God" (whose absence we feel like Bergman did) let his son die.

Before you say I am terrible, let me say I studied theology for 4 years at the U of the South, and am an Episcopalian. (Maybe that explains it. smile.gif)

But there are so many unanswered questions for me. I have never understood what Jesus' death on the cross meant.

And here in this movie, this father who had been absent and was somewhat abusive, gave his life to save his son...

Sara

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"But there are so many unanswered questions for me. I have never understood what Jesus' death on the cross meant."

I am not a theologian. I can only say what Jesus' death on the cross means to me. "Our sins" signifies everyone is sinful. Sin, to me, is an intense selfishness and pride. Truly loving another person is the opposite. People, at their core, are selfish and prideful.

Jesus died in part because of this sinful nature--so that we wouldn't have to die. He took the punishment we deserved on Himself. God allowing Jesus to die showed His unbelieveable love to all of us.

But if you studied theology for 4 years, you probably know this. Still, I felt I should try to answer your question.

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: So is the "father" God? I think not. He was absent too long.

He's certainly not MY God, but it's more than possible that he was the filmmakers.

My most favoured interpretation of this film is that it is about how Communism got rid of God, and when it ended and he was allowed back "we" found that he was abusive and cruel and that we didn't need him.

But that doesn't really acount for the death scene. I would add though that the father doesn't really die in saving the son, in fact he doesn't really save the son at all.

Perhaps what "Tarkovsky 2" means is that if we ignore him and run away we'll eventually kill him off, put the whole religious thing behind "us", and move on with just a few happy memories to look back on.

But then that's a bit too wooden and literal, and brief. But it's an idea.

Matt

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I'm much more familiar with The Return than I was when I originally posted here, and there are a few later reactions I'd like to throw into the mix. I do not think the work as a whole should be read in a Christological way. Nor do I think we are to approach it from such a linear thinking, western mode. Much has been said about Tarkovsky in this thread but we're still talking about The Return as if it's a riddle to be solved. I would rather enjoy Andrei Rublev's balloon and horse sequence and ponder the thematic possibilities of why they were chosen in the first place, than stretch things out and string together a chronological line that tries to tie the two together. Narratively, the two don't really mix -- thematically they perfectly match.

The Return has become to me a movie about a father and his sons. Whether he was absent for a time is really not the point, as all fathers have probably made wrong choices in raising their children. He is here now, and they have time to bond if they can only get past a lot of heartache. That's why the work is spiritual to me -- not that it lines up perfect little allegories that reveal The Father above, but more because it is representative of the kinds of struggles we have with any father, be it our heavenly Father or our father on earth. And this, to me anyway, is representative of all human relations and only using the father/son model symbolically.

It resonates with me on a number of levels, the first of which being that I do not understand my earthly father, I don't really understand my heavenly father, that at times each of them has the ability to frustrate me, and that at times I can become callused to either character. The same can be said for other relationships that we encounter, but somehow it is represented stronger here because we expect something greater from our parents or spouse than we do from other relationships in life. The Return is merely a return to a void, a void that no one fills because everyone eventually disappears, parents included. The return to the void isn't half as sad as the fact that in the presence of another, we still ache to understand (and more importantly to be understood), but the truth is that we come up empty.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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So is the "father" God? I think not. He was absent too long. (Maybe Bergman would agree with his absence.)

Again, try to avoid allegory. The Return is much too complex to be so cut and dried.

For example, the opening view of the father is very much a reproduction of an art piece of Jesus laid out in the tomb. (cf. this post and the painting)

It's really a film that takes repeated viewings. Cf. my review after my first viewing and my brief posting after seeing it earlier this year at Whitehead Int. FF.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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I haven't read any interviews with Zvyagintsev but I'm still toying with the many possibilities of how The Return could be more personalized by him much the way I've personalized it above. No time to go back through the whole thread and read every post right now, but a quick search at Wikipedia solidified some even more recent thoughts. It's been a few years -- it was actually between 1990-1995 -- but I took at least ten trips into what was in the beginning the USSR, and later the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and of course Russia. I seem to recall in Russia the stories of Stalin, and I was pondering his "father-like" history in relation to how one might view the film. It is interesting that the father is such a hard man to come to terms with -- try as the boys might, they won't understand him when he's with them, nor will they understand him later when he's gone. Is it possible that The Return is a metaphor for the childern of Stalin, now fatherless, these days somewhat "un-united," reeling in the throes of post-communist rule?

From Wikipedia.

While many states have held a 'father of the nation' in continuing highering respect since their founding, others have adopted and then abandoned some numerous figures throughout their history. Joseph Stalin was seen by millions during his period of control in the Soviet Union as the national father-figure, an image augmented deliberately by images released of him in the pose of a father or grandfather patting children on their head. Such was his esteem that a wave of suicides was recorded when his death was announced, with people suggesting that life without Stalin to guide them was unthinkable. Within a few years however, when his successors revealed the truth about Stalin's reign of terror, his popularity plummeted and his body was removed from the mausoleum where it had been laid alongside Lenin.

Any other thoughts? Have I really gone off the deep end here? Or did I just get political? Oh my.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Some of the reviews I read made reference to the film being tied to current Russian politics and nostalgia for Communism or rediscovery of freedom, possibly even reemergence of the church. I don't have anywhere near the knowledge of post-Soviet Russia (or Russia at all, really) to have a clue how this would play out in the Russian mind. But I think true understanding of the film would require such knowledge. We do as best we can.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Well I don't hink it's the sole theme, but it certainly sounds like it could be part of what The Return is about - Good call.

FWIW I saw a copy of the woodcut of Christ in the tomb that is mirrored at the start of the film, so I think we have to keep a theological interpretation on the table alongside the political one you've just given above.

Matt

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Certainly the theological needs to be included. This is a multilayered work. To look at it only as political or theological or freudian father/son perspective would miss the depth of the story. This is a Russian novel. there is so much going on at so many different levels that it can always be fresh when we watch it.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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