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SDG

Offret (The Sacrifice) (1986)

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I've been mulling this one over for several weeks, and was inspired to write about it in the "turning off acclaimed movies" thread by Ron's positive comment about it, but then decided to give it its own thread.

The purpose of this thread is to discuss crucial climactic plot points of the film, so MAJOR spoilers1.giffollow.

You've been warned.

Okay, here's what's been sticking in my craw. Most sources I've read who set out to illuminate the movie's themes and meaning, including Tarkovsky himself, talk about it in terms of rejecting materialism, rediscovering spirituality, self-sacrifice, and so on. Tarkovsky, and others, talk about the Christian dimension in this theme of self-sacrifice and spirituality.

My problem with this is that it all seems to be predicated on ONE of the TWO originally separate story ideas that Tarkovsky eventually fused into his final film.

Originally Tarkovsky had two separate ideas for two separate films, one about a man who gives up his life and family in order to undo the apocalyse, and one about a man who discovers that he has cancer and is cured by having sex with a witch.

In its final form, Offret fuses these two mystical elements, does away with the cancer device, and has the protagonist BOTH give up his life, family, house, speech, etc., AND ALSO sleep with the witch in order to undo the apocalypse.

Anyone have any thoughts on how successful or unsuccessful this fusion is? What Tarkovsky may have been trying to achieve, and what is in fact the net effect of the juxtaposition?

Does it seem to anyone else that if the original sacrifice theme is in any way Christian, the addition of the magical-sex witch motif creates a kind of Christian-pagan dialectic, perhaps as in Andrei Rublev? What about the fact that the protagonist of Andrei Rublev is more or less vamped by a sexy naked woman who is overtly a pagan (and described in the credits, at least in English, as a witch), and he resists, whereas the protagonist of Offret must more or less throw himself at a rather demure, unseductive (but not unattractive) maid who, if she is a witch at all, never lets on?

Is there any sense in which the witch scene can be seen as sacrificial? If so, how? I'm not primarily concerned here with the moral issue, though that can't be excluded entirely. Certainly there's no suggestion that the protagonist really WANTS to sleep with the maid or is looking for an excuse to do so, nor does the film take any interest in whatever pleasure he might derive from doing so.

Still, all things being equal, there's certainly a sense in which offering an older man the opportunity to save the world by sleeping with a younger woman is not as obviously a sacrifice as asking him to burn down his house, vow silence for the rest of his life, and get taken away from his family in a paddy wagon. Certainly as a means of saving the world, sleeping with a witch has definite perks over burning your house down, etc.

Even if one held strong Christian principles against sexual immorality, the notion that THIS act might be capable of saving the world would create a strong challenge to the idea that there are no exceptions [typo earlier, sorry] to the proscriptions of sexual morality, and would suggest the idea that this might be a case of such an exception where no moral wrong would be done -- a notion that, for an awful lot of men, however strong their moral beliefs might be, would not be a wholly unappealing thought.

Not that Tarkovsky shows any sign of being interested in such questions, at least overtly (though I do find the comparison-contrast between Andrei Rublev and Offret suggestive). I don't mean to give the witch subplot an undue importance, but it does seem to be the element that creates the difficulty.

Any thoughts?

Other, completely unrelated thoughts about Offret also welcome.


“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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Given my heavy spoiler warnings, and the level of Tarkovsky-philia on this board, I assume that most of the score or so of views counted on this thread (less my own in creating it, editing my posts, etc.) are from users who've seen the film. NO ONE has ANY comments?


“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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Um. I haven't seen the film, but I wanted to see if there was anything interesting on this thread that was non-spoilerish. But I will give my opinion: You are right in some places, and in some places not so much.

Dale


Metalfoot on Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee's Noel: "...this album is...monotony...bland, tripy fare..."

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I'm bumping this long-dead thread to the top and hoping that some new conversations will emerge. I finished Offret last night. I'm still turning it over and am not ready to offer any lengthy comments, but maybe some others here will address SDG's post. For now, all I'll say is:

Major spoilers1.gif continue...

Is there any sense in which the witch scene can be seen as sacrificial? If so, how? I'm not primarily concerned here with the moral issue, though that can't be excluded entirely. Certainly there's no suggestion that the protagonist really WANTS to sleep with the maid or is looking for an excuse to do so, nor does the film take any interest in whatever pleasure he might derive from doing so.

I will say that that scene was certainly an uncomfortable one. I had the feeling that Alexander most definitely did NOT want to sleep with her but only did so because he felt that it had to be done. He was in tears, she was offering comfort, and the scene ended with her only saying "it will be over soon" while he wept and pretty much broke down completely. Am I misremembering, or does Tarkovsky hint that Alexander thinks of his wife and young son, maybe out of guilt for what he's about to do, or maybe because he believes that this is what he must do in order to save them? But then, in the middle of that scene, Tarkovsky uses another one of his "floating lovers" shots. What does it mean here?

But I've gotta say, that was one strange way to save the world.... Am I supposed to see it as symbolic?

SDG, did you ever write a review of this one?

Edited by Diane

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:spoilers: (Just to be safe...)

I just watched The Sacrifice tonight, so now might not be the best time to jump into this - it would probably do me well to go back through and rewatch parts of this again - but I wonder... did the scene with the witch actually happen?!?

The sequence as a whole is so surreal - we see him wandering through a ruined churchyard, see scenes of civil unrest, see him standing in front of the witch's house, watch the conversation and eventual floating love scene, see him lying in the field with his wife, and finally, watch a very haunting tracking shot through his house which ends with him lying on the couch in the morning light - that I think it's at least plausible that perhaps the whole thing was a feverish dream brought on by the stress of knowing the world is about to end. Perhaps the dream is more a nightmare; we see his fear of how far he'll have to go to put things right should God pull through.

Of course, it's just as plausible that the witch spirited him back into his bed after their tryst.

Or did I miss something? (Which is entirely possible.)

Edited by opus

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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I've been asking Opus's question too: Did it really happen?

There are several images in the film that suggest a split in time and reality: especially a moment when Alexander leans back against a tree that has two trunks, one that grows upward and another that bends and leans toward the earth, illustrating some kind of fundamental split.

That got me thinking along the lines of The Double Life of Veronique.

So, how about this? The scene in which Alexander sneaks around his own property, trying to avoid the notice of his family, happens twice, and it's a little different each time. This made me wonder if the first walk... his journey to the witch... was a dream, like a "last temptation," representing a potential compromise. He might try and save the world through a worldly bargain, through engaging with a witch. Or, he might try and save the world through a selfless sacrifice. The stark contrast between the two decisions seem to imply that he can't have it both ways. If he *tries* to have it both ways, then his faith is not really sincere. So, after we see the "dream sequence" about the witch, we see Alexander wake up and choose differently.

Another possibility: Alexander makes the deal with God, but is later overcome with fear and doubt. So he decides to try "Plan B," and sleep with the witch, per the wicked suggestion of his friend. After he does this, he is so racked with guilt over his stumble that he makes a severe decision: instead of waiting to see if God will still stake him up on his offer, he decides to set fire to his own belongings and set in motion his sacrifice all by himself, without God's help. In either case, God is silent, and Alexander is acting desperately, first in faith, then in doubt, and ultimately reasserting his faith-bargain in a more aggressive fashion. We're left wondering if it might be madness, but the boy's sudden speech suggests otherwise.

There are several images that made me curious. One in particular: Near the end there is a car sitting in the grass with the door wide open. It looks like a sheet is spilling out of the open door and across the grass. Whose car is this? What is the sheet? There is another sheet in the witch's house, which is wrapped around Alexander and Maria during their indiscretion. Is this suggesting that the witch is in some way related to worldliness, to manmade shows of power? Or am I reading too much into that?

I'm really intrigued by the delivery man's fear of Rembrandt. Is this a healthy fear... a sort of "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom"? Or is the delivery man a tempter, sent to corrupt Alexander, so he recoils at any reflection of holiness? The delivery man is a mysterious character. He seems to be a seeker at times, a tempter at others, and sometimes just a fool along the lines of Job's friends.

All of the film's "through a glass darkly" imagery is fascinating, but I also found it heavy-handed, announcing its own metaphoric significance. Maybe it's just me, but in seeing Tarkovsky pay such obvious homage to Bergman -- and to Dreyer, especially in the visual echoes of Ordet, with the father and the doctor sitting in chairs opposite one another with a beautiful woman standing between them -- I felt that Tarkovsky strayed from his own particular style. It felt too much like somebody trying on somebody else's approach, and thus it felt too contrived and "staged" compared to something like The Mirror or Andrei Rublev.

Definitely not my favorite Tarkovsky film, but one I need to see again and again to dig deeper. I reserve the right to change my mind about any and all of this. :huh:


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I watched this again tonight, and I realized (or had forgotten) how much of a "Tarkovsky's greatest hits" movie it is. And that's despite how so much of it feels more like Bergman/Dreyer than Tarkovsky (FWIW, Sven Nykvist, the cinematographer on several Bergman films, cinematographed [? is that the verb form?] The Sacrifice, too). I'm sure there are more parallels, but here are the ones I recall at 1 AM

(SPOILERS):

Andrei Rublev makes a vow of silence; Alexander makes a vow of silence.

Stalker: the way beds are shot is similar (low angle, through a doorway, with metal bars on the bed); and there's the child savior angle, too.

Solaris: Alexander's pose when he kneels to Maria near the end echoes "The Return of the Prodigal" at the end of Solaris.

Mirror: People levitate over beds; a house burns rather dramatically

Nostalghia: Alexander cups his hands over the candle before he sets the house on fire; Domenico in Nostalghia does the same when he carries the candle across the pool. (Both played by Erland Josephson, too.)

Ivan's Childhood: a stretch here, but Ivan delivers messages, and Otto in Sacrifice is a postman.

Edited by Tyler

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Finally watched this about a week ago, and I have to say that I was really disappointed by it. You can read a little about that disappointment here.

I wasn't aware beforehand that Tarkovsky had combined two separate ideas into one, but now that I know, that might explain why it didn't really work for me. As I say in my blog post, the plot seems to demand some sense of urgency that Tarkovsky doesn't provide. Perhaps that's because his original intention was to make something that more closely resembled his other films. The Sacrifice, meanwhile, stands out as a movie with a fair amount of plot, and yet Tarkovsky doesn't adjust his style to accommodate that change. As a result, we don't feel any sense of momentum, which is important to a story like this, IMO.

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This is the perfect place for me to start. SDG, your compare-and-contrast between Andrei Rublev and The Sacrifice is indeed suggestive, but the Tarkovsky film that I think really makes for interesting cross-examination with The Sacrifice is Nostalghia. As I put it in that film's thread, I see them as "two sides of the same coin".

 

(The following is about Nostalghia as well as The Sacrifice, so DOUBLE SPOILER WARNING.)

 

In Expatriate Filmmaking, For Better and For Worse, Jonathan Rosenbaum writes:

 

 

...it might even be said that Tarkovsky’s last two features are in many fundamental ways films about exile — which is a far cry from the existential alienation found in his Russian films.

 

 

 

The former case is easier to argue, but I find some parallel aspects that make me agree with Rosenbaum in both films’ cases, if not on a literal level.

 

If Nostalghia protagonist (and auteur avatar) Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovsky) isn’t an exile, it’s only because he’s exiled himself from that too. Yeah, he’s ostensibly in Italy to study a composer (who hanged himself upon returning to Russia), but even by Tarkovsky standards, Andrei is a tough bowl of borscht. He’s obviously homesick, but it also appears that he’s following in his subject’s footsteps, and one wonders if he doesn’t realize this. Eugenia, the translator, is yet another foreign country to him. The only time he seems to open up is when he gives a bizarre (“there are too many Italian shoes”) yet affecting (“unspoken feelings are unforgettable”) speech to a little girl who likely has no idea what any of this means.

 

This reminds me of Alexander’s monologue to Little Man, where he’s sitting against a tree and railing against civilization as the little boy crawls around.

 

There, Alexander displays that he’s tired of all the windbags in the world…and he doesn’t exclude himself; the speech goes meta on a dime.

 

In Nostalghia, there’s something like this. Andrei says that “poetry is untranslatable, like the whole art” and that translations of Tolstoy and Pushkin won’t help anyone understand Russia, as he smokes in his seat with his back to Eugenia. When she asks how they can get to know each other across this great gap, he turns around and answers, “By abolishing the frontiers…between states.” Are Alexander’s exchanges with the rest of his family really that much different than this?

 

Then there’s Domenico, Josephson’s character, whose notoriety in the spa town comes from how he locked his family in their house to save them from the end of the world (which calls to mind one of the two ideas that became The Sacrifice), and from his (interrupted) attempts to cross the mineral pool with a lit candle, a task which he believes will save the world. Now think of how Alexander talks about a ritual in the opening scene.

 

In Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky makes an observation that I haven’t seen critics pick up on:
 

 

Both [Domenico and Alexander] carry the mark of sacrifice, and each makes an offering of himself. The difference is that Domenico’s act produces no tangible results.

 

 

(Domenico’s act is also arguably the bleakest thing in Tarkovsky’s oeuvre.)

 

More on this train of thought later.

Edited by Kinch

Did George Clinton ever get a permit for the Mothership, or did he get Snoop Dogg to fetch one two decades late?

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I just watched The Sacrifice for the first time last night. Being a Christian who is losing all of my old favorite things left and right, discovering Tarkovsky was truly a God send. Art house cinema has always been my favorite, but rarely something that aligns with my faith and love of Jesus Christ.

 

I see a lot of confusion about the scene in which Alexander goes to sleep with the witch. It seemed pretty clear to me by the dialogue about his mother's garden and sister's hair, what is happening in the scene and that it's not portrayed as a good thing. It's him choosing to take matters into his own hands, chosing to save his life while keeping the world vs God saving his life by giving up the world. It's not being shown as a positive alternative in any way. Because he took matters into his own hands, his mother's garden's beauty was ruined. Because his sister went the route of the world, she ruined her gorgeous natural hair. And by choosing to go to a witch for help instead of following through on his good faith, he is choosing an unnatural, ugly way out of fear.

Then he seems to wake up from it as if it were a dream. He then repeats the same day, now he is awake and he chooses the way of faith instead of fear. Choosing to give up the world for his salvation. Choosing to give up comfort for faith. 

Edited by PurplePainter44

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14 hours ago, PurplePainter44 said:

I just watched The Sacrifice for the first time last night. Being a Christian who is losing all of my old favorite things left and right, discovering Tarkovsky was truly a God send. Art house cinema has always been my favorite, but rarely something that aligns with my faith and love of Jesus Christ.

 

I see a lot of confusion about the scene in which Alexander goes to sleep with the witch. It seemed pretty clear to me by the dialogue about his mother's garden and sister's hair, what is happening in the scene and that it's not portrayed as a good thing. It's him choosing to take matters into his own hands, chosing to save his life while keeping the world vs God saving his life by giving up the world. It's not being shown as a positive alternative in any way. Because he took matters into his own hands, his mother's garden's beauty was ruined. Because his sister went the route of the world, she ruined her gorgeous natural hair. And by choosing to go to a witch for help instead of following through on his good faith, he is choosing an unnatural, ugly way out of fear.

Then he seems to wake up from it as if it were a dream. He then repeats the same day, now he is awake and he chooses the way of faith instead of fear. Choosing to give up the world for his salvation. Choosing to give up comfort for faith. 

Hello. Welcome to Arts & Faith. Glad you added your comments. It's been a few years since I've watched the film, but I remember thinking more-or-less as you outline it above. That the visit to the witch was an act of despair that ironically "saves" the world while losing himself. 

But, as I say, I've not seen the film in a while.

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Hello! Glad I found this site!

Whether or not it was the witch that saved the world (or if the world was even saved) I'm not sure. All I know is that it's pretty clear to me that Alexander either woke from a bad dream that drove him to make the right choice or he woke after sleeping with the witch, repented and made the Sacrifice he promised to God.

Part of me thinks it's a little of both. 

Edited by PurplePainter44

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