[Decalogue] Episode III
Posted 07 October 2003 - 03:49 PM
Russell Lucas (unregistered)
Posted 19 October 2003 - 03:16 PM
The cuckolded husband does not appear in Decalogue Three. Janusz, the adulterous husband, has gone back to his wife and children for the sake of the latter. If his wife deserves the cold way in which he responds to her attempts to pull the remains of a Santa Claus beard from his worn face, then it is not evident from what Kieslowski shows us of her.
On Christmas Eve Ewa comes to look for Janusz again. Her husband has found another reason to leave her, and a subsequent boyfriend has also left her. After his moments as Father Christmas, Janusz goes to midnight mass. In the screenplay, Janusz takes his entire family to mass to keep a promise to his daughter. In the finished film, though, we see Janusz alone at mass and it is at least possible from his manner that he is looking for Ewa.
In Kieslowski’s version of Fatal Attraction Ewa drags Janusz to the most likely locations where a drunken or dismembered boyfriend might be brought on Christmas Eve, holding him fast with a mixture of menace and destructive self-pity. Why does Janusz tell his wife such a pathetic lie and traipse through the frozen early morning in search of a man he suspects does not exist? It does not seem likely Ewa can blackmail Janusz; his wife’s final question to him suggests that she knew everything. Does he do it because of Ewa’s frayed and tenuous emotional health, a condition which he part-inherited and part-caused? Is it genuine concern for her as a broken person, or are his motives baser?
The ending is, for me, about as satisfactory as I could imagine given the possibilities. Janusz has returned to his family, fully aware of Ewa’s manipulations and illusions.
There are two connections to other entries. First, we see Krystzof from One coming out as Janusz, dressed as Santa Claus, goes in. This shot is also important because although there is a brief shot of the high-rise in the background as Janusz gets out of his taxi, otherwise the familiar daytime external long and medium shots of the apartment building aren’t in this film. This shot tells us we’re still in the same complex. Second, of course, is the Watcher who is either piloting or riding in the trolley which the Taxi plays chicken with in the tunnel.
It’s in this entry that I start to have difficulty fusing a specific Commandment to the episode. I know the Facets set uses the Sabbath day Commandment. There are certainly traces here of the ways that people keep Christmas holy or, at the least, traditional. Ewa had her own designs for using this day (night) for a purpose sanctified in her own bruised heart. The screenplay added to the mass scene a homily in which the priest urged the parishioners to see in the holy day opportunities to serve and love others. That is certainly in accord with many conventional interpretations of the way that Christ transformed the Sabbath. Oddly enough, the same screenplay book, for which Kieslowski wrote an introduction, includes a list of the Commandments that formulates them differently than the Facets set—separating “You shall have no other gods” and “You shall not make any graven image” into two and, accordingly, aligning this episode with “You shall not bear false witness” (assuming, of course, that we can associate the episodes with the corresponding number Commandment). The book’s list combines the two “You shall not covet” commands.
There are certainly elements of false witness and misrepresentation present here, chiefly in the disputed matter concerning the phone call and in Ewa’s statements to Janusz concerning her boyfriend.
And there’s another possible bone to pick with the Facets description: are we sure that the Edward Gorey spoken of here is a new boyfriend? Only that description tells us so. Unless there’s something left untranslated, I don’t recall any mention of who Edward was. Ewa and Janusz both take his status for granted. I tell myself that Edward couldn’t have been her “husband” or the man who made her choose between him and Janusz because Janusz asks for a description of Edward. At the same time, Janusz said that the husband turned his back to them when he caught them, so perhaps Janusz saw little of him. It’s at bottom a question of little importance, as with Kieslowski the plot is secondary, but it seems to me that Ewa may not say a single true thing the whole course of the film.
Finally, this motif is repeated throughout the film, both generally in the structure of the films and specifically in Six, but there are several instances of characters and the camera looking in through or out of windows here. Krystzof looks in the window of Janusz’s apartment. The camera looks out the window of Ewa’s aunt’s room to Ewa getting into her car. The camera looks through the trolley window to the Watcher inside. It looks into the window of Ewa’s apartment. It looks through the window in Ewa’s bathroom door.
Russell Lucas (unregistered)
Posted 20 October 2003 - 10:37 AM
I'm not sure. I think there's a pervading drollness that clouds his relationship with his wife. We know little of their history, but I feel sad to see him pull away from her touch. She sounds so hopeful when talking about going skiiing. I think that duty compels him to return, and while that is an appropriate motivation when all else fails, I hope that he can muster the enthusiasm his wife seems to exhibit. The last scene might open that door.
He may have more of an emotional connection to her, in all her unhingedness, than he does to his wife. They're broken people who are drawn to each other.
Yeah, Krystzof turns his head and follows Janusz into his apartment. It's convenient that he lives on the ground floor.
I really like this observation.
I think, given the spiritual illiteracy of the intended audience of this film, it is reasonble to transfer the sanctity of the Sabbath to a high holy day: Christmas. The issue is that a day has been set aside, with the full knowledge and consent of the players, who subsequently violate that day.
Yeah, there's also something to the line of dialogue late in the film in which Ewa confesses how difficult Christmas is for her. Her only remaining family connection is a senile aunt. By that score, it's not surprising she'd try to cling to whatever interpersonal link she could. On the other hand, it is a consequence of her brokenness that she's never successfully been able to establish other interpersonal ties. Still, the way these holidays have developed (both in Kieslowski's culture and ours) makes them poignant for those of us with families and decidedly different for those without surrounding extended families. Of course, the counterargument is that holy days-- days in which we specially commemorate the integral events of our faith and the work our Lord has done-- don't really require (or benefit from?) the presence of our families around us. We certainly are induced to feel thankful, which is always a hallmark of the presence of God, but what else do family celebrations do to bring about holiness? Counterargument again: the very gathering of God's children to celebrate His birth is a holy event. However way it comes out, assuming that Janusz did not set out to sleep with Ewa when he agreed to accompany her, there's a significant argument to be made that the holiest thing he did that Christmas was nursing her broken spirit and listening to her chaotic ramblings.
Will she value her own life any more after that night? We can't know, but it is hard to imagine her valuing it any less, and there's reason to believe Janusz values his more.
Posted 10 December 2004 - 02:12 PM
Notes On Decalogue III
By Mark Kodak
It is Christmas Eve, and Janusz, a taxi driver in Warsaw Poland plans to spend the holiday at home with his family. Ewa, his ex-mistress, seeks him out, and through a series of manipulations, convinces him to spend the night with her, searching in vain for her lost lover Edward, who does not really exist. During their odyssey both of them struggle with issues of their past, infidelity, deceit, guilt, shame and regret. In the morning she confesses to him that she was planning on committing suicide if he had not stayed with her until morning. In the end they both have resisted further entanglements in the affair, avoided death, and hopefully settled their past.
Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
● The sanctity of time.
● The restless anxiety caused by infidelity, guilt, deceit, shame and regret.
● Holy Days represented as liminal portals drawing us towards transcendent realities.
General Observations :
Janusz is the Polish name for John, meaning “Gift of God”. The story takes place on Christmas Eve, when gifts are exchanged in remembrance to God’s gift of His son. Ewa is Polish for Eve, meaning, “life-giver”, also a metaphor for the holiday, the Church, the fall of man, and temptation. (Eve was named by Adam after the fall.)
A drunk dragging a tree home to decorate with lights, wanders through the street singing a Christmas carol “Bog sie rodzi” which is translated “God is being born”.
This is a harbinger of the cross, a tree that the "Light of the World" was hung on. Later in the film we hear this drunk crying out miserably "Where is my home?" He is an icon of humanity, lost, confused and homesick.
The camera drifts up and looks at the city from above. Is this to remind us of God’s perspective ?
Janusz dressed as Santa meets Kryzystof (name meaning Christ) from Decalog I, and says “Merry Christmas”. Kryzstof replies, “I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you.” A flashback (remembrance) to the theme of idolatry present now in the seemingly forgotten meaning of Christmas. This holy day will not be blessed for everyone.
How do we find blessedness amidst such tragedy?
The camera moves to reveal a look through the window into Janusz’s house, as if through the eyes of Kryzstof himself, peering into a warm inviting setting of family life. This is permeated by a sense of homesick longing from the vantage point of a painful remembrance.
Inside Janusz’s wife asks, “Do you think we will be able to go ?”, to which he replies, “We can try”. The next scene reveals they are talking about attending midnight mass as a family.
At mass, Ewa sees Janusz with his family, and the tension between empathy and contempt for these characters begins to surface. Their odyssey through the night ironically begins in the walls of the Church, a place where heaven and earth meet.
On her drive to her aunt’s house Ewa sees a young boy running from a home or hospital, and get captured by his guardian or parent. This to me is symbolic of being rescued from the unforeseen danger of our own desires, and longing for liberation without the boundaries of the law.
Ewa visits her aunt in a resting home. She is old and can no longer make sense of her memories. Time is in disarray, and remembrance is obfuscated. Ewa, gives her a gift of leather gloves, symbolic perhaps of empty hands, a reflection of Ewa’s offering to someone who has trouble sorting out the past. Or, they could symbolize the empty work of our hands in the context of a Sabbath rest from our toil and occupation. The loss of memory leaves one without any linear or teleological reference point, and causes a breakdown in meaningful communication. As Ewa leaves her aunt alone the camera watches through the window as she gets into her car and drives away. The perspective this time from this inside-out mirrors the earlier window shot with Kryzstof.
Ewa drives away and arrives outside Janusz’s apartment. The camera once again grants us a look “inside” where Janusz is opening a bottle of champagne to share with his wife and mother-in-law. We see him deliberately unplug the phone line, perhaps in remembrance of seeing Ewa at mass and in prevention of any attempt for her to contact him. The three of them share a toast and the mother-in-law says “just like old times”, yet another marker to the remembrance of sacred time, and the holiday as a repository for meaning. This moment of joy is interrupted by a buzz at the door, where some darkness from the past is waiting to disturb the peace of this evening.
Under the pretext of his taxi being stolen, Janusz runs outside to find Ewa, while his wife stays inside, and looks through the window to see him go down the street. This is fourth window perspective in the movie, and it is again a mirror of the previous shot of Ewa looking in. As he goes out of the frame we see the drunk crying out “Where is my home ?”, and the parallel with Janusz here is obvious.
When Janusz returns and tells his wife he must leave and search for the taxi, she says, “Perhaps it is not worth it.” We get the idea that she is well aware of his lie.
He replies, “It is our living”, which on the surface refers to the taxi, but metaphorically to the lie, and the possible breakdown of the family by his infidelity.
He meets Ewa in the taxi and the scene is bathed in a hellish red Christmas light.
The sinister aspect is more pronounced when Ewa lies and says she was not at mass, and Janusz says “I saw you there”.
They go to a hospital to inquire if anyone without identification has been brought in. The orderly coldy describes a legless corpse, even though it could be her husband.
They see this legless and faceless corpse and Ewa buries her face in response to this horror into Janusz’s chest.
He asks if it is her husband, to which she replies no, but I wish it was you, expressing hatred for the men in her life. She also says, “I wonder who this one hurt, and who is going to rejoice?”, a very clear parallel with Christ as represented by the corpse on the table. The similarity between the table of death, in a morgue, and the typical table of a meal, struck me heavily. This gory visual feast of flesh and blood where the Christ figure is devoured by Ewa’s hatred might be a cinematic icon of the Church.
The next event is a deliberate police chase where Jausz conspicuously speeds by the officer in the taxi that was reported stolen. The next segment portrays the recklessness of their lives and decisions. The officer pulls them over and pardons them because it is “Christmas”. This is yet another remembrance reference, followed by more reckless driving and verbal tempting of God, as they speed strait towards an oncoming train. The theophany figure is the driver of that train, and his gaze, like that of Decalogue I and II, is hard to interpret. At the final moment, before collision, Janusz swerves away and asks Ewa if she has had enough. She replies with a resounding “No”.
After this near miss, they arrive at Ewa’s apartment, where she lies again, saying her husband might be home. She enters first and tells Janusz to wait in the car, and come inside if he sees her out on the balcony within five minutes. While inside, she arranges the items she has kept of Edward’s like props around the apartment, then phones and falsely reports an unconscious Edward Garus to the police. The camera focuses outside the window on a Christmas tree, becoming another liminal glimpse of salvific imagery, the telephone itself becomes a metaphysical hopeless and “calling out” as her lie crosses the wires.
The two of them sit down for tea, a communal drink, and talk through some issues of their affair. Ewa wants Janusz back but he knows that would require him to forsake his family. She apologized for lying to him, and then lies again immediately afterward. During the conversation they share a stick of gum, which is broken like communion bread and eaten while looking into one another’s eyes. They are interrupted by the door buzzer, a flashback (remembrance) to her arrival at Janusz’s apartment and further to the end of the affair hen Edward walked in on them. Is this Edward at the door? No, it is only a group of young carolers singing another hymn, a subtle call to remember the holiday and what it brings.
The two of them leave and go to a holding cell where the drunk that we saw in the opening scene is naked with other drunks, being hosed down with cold water by a Nazi looking man who laughs and says sadistically, “See how they jump?” Of course, this drunk is not her husband either. Janusz becomes outraged at this cruelty and forces and twists the hose out of the attendant’s had, which resembles a serpent, and threatens him harshly.
That he is a man of compassion is obvious in his treatment of Ewa, and his feelings towards this alcoholic. After this interlude he says, “It’s senseless, I’m going home.”
On the drive home Ewa grabs the wheel in frustration and they crash into a large Christmas tree. This is a symbolic collision with the transcendent, and represents the inner conflict of coming to terms with our guilt, temptations, and bad decisions.
There is no rest on this Sabbath day because what they choose to remember haunts them, and deliverance is elusive because what they choose to forget is the presence of what is Holy about this otherwise silent and peaceful night.
Ewa now begs to be taken to the train station, saying Edward often loiters there.
Ironically, their journey started in the Church and now ends in a train station, a place of arrival and departure, both to and from several possible destinations.
A solitary Christmas tree stands in the center of the deserted station. Like the cross, it is an inexorable symbol of sacrificial passage and death, fixed in time like the wood between the worlds.
She reveals a picture of Edward, who has been living in Krakow with a new family for years. The clock in the station turns, and it is 7:03 a.m. She confesses her deceit and manipulation and says, “It is hard to be alone on a night like this. People close themselves in and draw the curtains.” Both statements elude to the boundaries of protection people set up for themselves, some of which can be healthy, but often are built up to keep them from being vulnerable to others, and consequently, keep us from experiencing true love and intimacy.
She reveals that she was on the verge of suicide, the camera focusing on her hand holding a small white pill. She tells him she knew she would be alright if she could get through the night with him. Salvation would come for her through self deception and reliance upon her own scheming. The test for Janusz, I believe, resulted in the realization of what he might have thrown away by leaving with Ewa, a decisive end to his infidelity, as well as participating as a means of God’s mercy dispensed to Ewa on this night.
The camera looks down into the station where we see the boy in his pajamas, who tried to escape earlier in the film. He has arrived at the station as well, and is questioned by security officers. Is he symbolic of Ewa’s flight from the truth and the law of God? Is it childish immaturity to think we can escape, without the cross?
The scene changes to a birds-eye view of their two vehicles from above. His car is white and hers is red. They flash their lights to one another in a symbolic goodbye and Janusz goes home to his family. Where Ewa goes we do not know. Will she survive and be “saved”? Kieslowsi, I believe, leaves us with hope.
When Janusz arrives home his wife is sleeping on the couch, waiting for his return. She wakes up and asks, “Ewa?”, to which he replies “Ewa.” “Will you be going out in the evenings again?” she inquires. “No”, he says. Has he found contentment in what he has? Does the excitement of an affair deliver what it promises? The Holy day has been kept holy in spite of temptation, and honesty has in part brought some initial healing.
What are we to remember about the Sabbath day ?
1. That restoration and renewal only transpire through the creative power of God.
2. God is working out the restoration of all things, undoing the curse of the fall, in us and in the world.
3. Time is a gift, and we have been given the ability to redeem it through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
4. Sin makes us restless. Relationships are healed through a process of forsaking illusions and falsehoods about ourselves, and about others, by living and speaking the truth in love.
5. Christ said that man was not made for the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath was made for man. He showed us by His example to spend this day and all holy days participating in healing relationships, comforting and visiting the oppressed and needy, sharing meals with one another, confessing our sins, giving thanks, and teaching.
“We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”
W. H. Auden
But what is existence ? Existence is the child that is born of the infinite and the finite, the eternal and the temporal, and is therefore a constant striving . . .
True love never can be rent
But only true love can keep beauty innocent
You can run from love
And if it’s really love it will find you
Catch you by the heel
But you can’t be numb for love
The only pain is to feel nothing at all
How can I hurt when I’m holding you?
I could never take a chance
Of losing love to find romance
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman
“A Man And A Woman”, Lyrics from U2
Edited by Visigoth, 10 December 2004 - 02:25 PM.
Posted 03 March 2005 - 12:13 PM
Posted 03 March 2005 - 05:16 PM
I agree, but do you think the film might also be saying something about the nature of family?
Posted 04 March 2005 - 01:37 PM
I agree, but do you think the film might also be saying something about the nature of family?
You mean like it's so easy to be lost or that if one is not carfull the family can be replaced with something less sacred.
Posted 04 March 2005 - 01:54 PM
Posted 01 May 2011 - 10:38 AM
- "The Watcher" is the driver of the trolley that Janusz plays chicken with. Again, I refuse to believe this guy is random or without meaning. The one time he appears in the episode is the one time Janusz is flirting with suicide. I don't think Janusz intends to kill himself, but he's risking doing so (along with everything) just to satisfy Ewa. And it's at this precise moment that "The Watcher" is looking at him? Yeah, that's not a coincidence.
- Visigoth's summary is fantastic. I think I can only add that, for us today, Christmas is really a sort of holy day. It's a day where we are reminded to put others ahead of ourselves. When Ewa tells Janusz how it's hard for her to be all alone on Christmas Eve, my first thought was that this means that Janusz's wife is all alone on Christmas Eve.
- A final thought: in our sex-obsessed culture, I've found that some people don't consider adultery or infidelity as really having been committed, unless they actually perform the sexual act itself. One of the most powerful things about the Sermon on the Mount, is how Christ explains that, with God, it's a matter of the heart not just performing the letter of the law. A man who looks at a woman in order to lust wrongfully after her has already committed infidelity. But, infidelity can be committed long before or long after sex enters the picture. Infidelity can be emotional and psychological, and Janusz is clearly still involved in Ewa in ways that he shouldn't be, even if, that night, he never intends to sleep with her. And, the fact that he makes the choice to put this all behind him, and go focus on his family does seem to make that morning just a little bit more holy.