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[Decalogue] Episode I

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Many months later, a few new things to add that don't seem to have been addressed before.

My film group screened this film last night. In the course of talking about how the film illustrates the kinds of sins which violate the First Commandment, one participant brought up the way in which the father seems to set up his relationship with his son as a god above God. He clearly loves his son, and doesn't love God, so while his love for his son appears by all indications to be wonderful and healthy, in the absence of God, it becomes an idol.

At the end, when the father is in the half-completed church, he reaches into the baptismal font and pulls out a disc-shaped block of frozen water, which might be both a scientific impossibility (or unlikeliness), and which looks almost like a communion wafer in its roundness. He puts it to his head, a gesture which could be read as him trying to reach out for the comforts of the church, or perhaps that the church's elements will remain frozen off to him.

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It is all tied up in the namelless strnger he represents Christ who suffers for our weaknessess and falaces but we reject him and he is powerless in the face of free will to do any thing sense if our free will was taken a way we would be mindless atomitons un able to choose freelly between right and wrong this is the crux of The Decalouge that man will make bad descions becuse he is falbale and has free will and God can not interfere with our free will becuse that would violate the basic laws of the universe. So to put it suscintlly man must humble himself before the Lord to be truelly free and not the falseness and vanity of the world.

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I like the way the supernatural makes its presence felt in the lives of the protagonists. Computers can't switch themselves on, and ink bottles and ice don't just break for no reason, but all of us have experienced similar confounding events, little moments that we end up dismissing but that haunt us all the same. Both father and son are shown to be spooked by the computer's odd behaviour. The stranger may not be Jesus, but he is clearly a supernatural presence of some sort (no matter how much Kiezlowski tried to downplay this idea). He is everywhere.

By the way, the ink bottle reminded me of the slide that seems to bleed at the beginning of the wonderful Don't Look Now. Both films play with signs and portents, and both feature a drowned child. I can't help but feel that Kiezlowski was tipping his hat to Nicolas Roeg.

Edited by The Invisible Man

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Interesting comment about the ink perhaps being a nod to Nicolas Roeg, Invisible Man. I haven't seen Don't Look Now, but you could be right. What I noticed is that Kieslowski used spilled liquids on various occasions throughout The Dekalog to signify loss (destruction, maybe?), including two instances of spilled milk in #6, and a recurring theme of things falling/being thrown in #5.

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It hadn't occured to me but I would go with that.

:spoiler:

The ink directly preshadows the girl's drowning in the lake in Don't Look Now, and is connected to it by it's vivid red/her red coat.

mmmmmm... I've got that on my rental list, shall consider it in this light when it finally comes. But for now, I agree with you wholeheartedly on this point.

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I dug out a list of Kiezlowski's favourite films, but, sadly, Don't Look Now didn't feature.

Here's his ten:

Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)

The Kid (Charles Chaplin)

Kes (Ken Loach)

La Strada (Federico Fellini)

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson)

A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson)

The Pram (Bo Widerberg)

Intimate Lighting (Ivan Passer)

The Musicians (Kazimierz Karabasz)

Ivan's Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky)

(Source: 1992 Sight & Sound Directors' Poll)

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I'm bumping this thread to the top again, since I plan to recommend that people visit this conversation, when I discuss Decalogue 1 tonight at The Kindlings Muse with Dick Staub. This is one of my favorite threads in our board history. Great discussion.

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1) It's always seemed ominous to me that the watcher is tending a fire right next to the lake. Not sure how strongly I'd hold to this now, but for a while I wondered if he was a god-figure and his fire was a symbol for him melting the ice--while the father watches, no less.

2) There are two scenes--one in the middle, second near the end--when the father's computer seems to turn itself on and displays the message, "I am ready." In the lecture scene, the father said that computers could eventually become self-aware and make volitional choices (or something like that). So, if you've watched 2001 too many times, as I have, it kind of feels like the computer developed a malevolent streak and intentionally gave them the wrong information on the ice's strength. Again, I wouldn't hold too strongly to that kind of interpretation, but it's fun to think about.

3) I think the father's faith in technology causes him to ignore all the warnings (the little girl at the door, the fire truck, people saying the ice broke, etc.) that point to problems at the lake before he finally goes to check it out. If you're going with the "No gods before me" framework, relying on technology instead of signs from the real world could have cost him a chance to see Pawel before he died.

4) The father's lecture can easily be interpreted as Kiewslowski subtly disclosing his ideological intentions for The Decalogue. That is, he's talking in an indirect way that the censors won't be able to recognize.

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I've begun working my way through this now. It's an experience worth the effort.

- So Kieslowski actually said that the young man by the fire doesn't mean anything? I call bull****. He acts too much like he knows what's happening in the story, that and when he's there and when he's not seem too significant to only be coincidences. He's not just a character in the Decalogue either, because it looks like each time he appears in an episode, he's a different person (dressed different, with a different job, etc.) And yet, Kieslowski had to have had a reason for giving him the same role - he's always watching, and appears at significant moments.

- There is clearly something unusual about the computer turning itself on. It's something not explained rationally or scientifically. The father says it's not supposed to do that. If this is really an episode reflecting on how we make technology a god in our lives, then there's something a little scary about the otherworldlyness of the computer's actions.

- The kid playing Pavel was a great little actor. The look on his face (the face of a kid who loves and admires his father) when being given overly simplistic answers about death is greatly affecting. I realize the dad's an atheist/agnostic, but as sensitive as he is to his son - his explanations about how the organs in the human body stop working are so clearly not what his son was asking for - that it makes it look like a blind spot for him. Almost any parent should have been able to understand the kid was going through some deep thinking for once, and responded with more than facts from the encyclopedia.

- I can't tell if it's implied that the fire was actually the thing that was overlooked by the dad in his calculations regarding the strength of the ice. It's obviously not something included in the computer calculation. When he walks out to test it himself, it seems to be fine at that point (and he probably weighs, what, over 3 times the weight of his son?) - but there's the bonfire sitting right next to, if not on top of the ice - burning there for hours and hours. It's not that using a computer to calculate something like that is wrong. While the computer doesn't seem normal (it's representative of taking the place of God), there's not indication that the computer consciously gave him the wrong results. It's that, either the father didn't include another important factor he should have (the fire?) or there was something else about the ice he just didn't know about.

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I had watched the first couple of episodes of THE DECALOGUE years ago, but I'm revisiting the first two and hoping to get through all ten in the next couple of months.

DECALOGUE: ONE is wonderful and sobering. Great stuff.

Jeremy, I really enjoyed your review, which I think did a good job of grappling with the question of idolatry. Nicely done.

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