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The Spiritual Worlds of Alexander Sokurov
PART TWO: 
Sokurov's Search for Spiritual Identity in
"Father and Son" & Other Films
 

 
"We shouldn’t be afraid of difficult films, we shouldn’t be afraid not to be entertained. The viewer pays a high price for a film. And not in money. Viewers spend their time, a piece of their lives – an hour and a half to two hours. A bad film, an aggressive film, takes several centuries of life from humanity." (Alexander Sokurov)

The soft amber glow of that magic moment when summer fire dissipates into the smoldering whispers of autumn. The nostalghia for a time and place long forgotten where the light never ends and dreams linger like stardust in the hallways and byways of an ancient golden city. The longing for a true brotherhood, where there are no base thoughts or deeds, only a pure spiritual understanding between individuals. These are all fleeting impressions, which one gathers like flint to a brush while watching the controversial masterpiece, "Father and Son", by the renown Russian auteur Alexander Sokurov. Mind you, these are only flittering little waves that reached the hearts of these reviewers and may or may not have been the intention of the filmmaker. And there are some other things in this film that unfortunately run counter to these impressions.

But what makes a Sokurov-experience different from that of any other director is his sheer power and mastery in transmitting his inner spiritual world onto the silver screen. Only a handful of directors in cinema history have managed to successfully create a spiritual experience inside the film itself, chief among them is Sokurov's mentor Andrei Tarkovsky, the Armenian Sergei Paradjanov, Robert Bresson, Godfrey Reggio and Ingmar Bergman. All of their (and Sokurov's) greatest work remind us that the fecundity of cinema exists to bring people back in touch with the world of their spirits and not their self-serving intellects. Cinema is not here to amuse us or to distract us from our earthly burdens through an onslaught of depravity or nonsensical tomfoolery. At its best, cinema offers us an uncanny x-ray of our spiritual inner beings. It reminds us that the world we live in is, at the moment, completely removed from the world of our spirits. This naturally brings up the unsettling question: what then has given rise to the dichotomy between these two worlds? Shouldn't they be one and the same? Did not mankind receive in the Lord's Prayer the words: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven?" What then has lead to this grave disparity, this turning away from the life of the spirit?

If there is one achievement Alexander Sokurov should be remembered for in the annals of great artistic accomplishments, it is his relentless striving to bring the world of the spirit closer to our own.  With the exceptions of Tarkovsky and Bresson, there has never been a director who places such an emphasis on the spiritual qualities of harmony, subtlety and refinement in all aspects of the filmmaking process (and in life as well):

"Artistic people are mostly chaotic, and sometimes there's destructiveness, at least that's what I saw. There's more chaotic personalities among contemporary people. This means they never worked seriously on themselves, they hate it, and will never do it. Most artists don't tend to harmony. They're not delicate, because they achieve harmony neither in art nor in life. That's the big problem for contemporary artists, for the so called creative part of the literate people....Artistic persons by their nature don't seek harmony, and this is a big problem with contemporary art. The main rule of classical art, that grounds all art, is the pursuit of harmony. Contemporary artists have forgotten this main law, and this is a road to nowhere, a dead-end without future. If you don't seek harmony then you quickly get some result. An artist can not achieve the result in his lifetime. The more he grows in art, the farther it steps from him, as if provoking 'Come on, create more, make more, go on, don't stop.'" (Alexander Sokurov, Sputnik)

In a perfect world, of course, art (and the artist) would not be separated from spiritual life. They would ebb and flow together in a Light-conscious stream, uplifting the surrounding world as a natural matter of course. For art is life, and life is art. We are all part of the great Work of Creation, which is the sacred model for all Art. And as long as the pure flame of the spirit is firmly in command, this marvelous balance can be striven for, maybe even achieved. The moment, however, the spirit weakens, as is the case with most filmmakers today, then the inevitable maelstrom follows:

   "Only the works of the spirit from their very origin bear life within them, and with it permanence and stability. Everything else must collapse from within when its time of blossoming is past. As soon as the fruits of it are due to appear, the barrenness will be exposed!
    "Just look at history! Only the work of the spirit, that is to say art, has outlived the peoples who have already collapsed through the activity of their intellect, which in itself is lifeless and cold. Their great, much-praised knowledge could not offer them any salvation from collapse. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans went this way; later also the Spaniards and the French, now the Germans - yet the works of genuine art have outlived them all! Nor can they ever perish."  (Abd-ru-shin, In the Light of Truth: The Grail Message, Ch.19, Vol.1)

"Oriental Elegy", "A Humble Life", "Spiritual Voices, Part 1", "Mother and Son" and "Father and Son" are all fairly recent films in Sokurov's canon. And eventhough they each have their own temperament, they share a common yearning to eschew the cruelty of death and attain safe passage into eternal life, hence they are often filled with incredibly expansive lengths of time between cuts. (Of course, his most famous film, "Russian Ark, is well-known for its single take, but we have chosen to exclude this film because of its more superficial nature.) In this way, Sokurov has taken Tarkovsky's philosophy of "sculpting in time" to an extreme not even the great Russian master could have imagined. But these expanses should not be measured just in terms of the clock. Sometimes, as in the case of "Father and Son", short passages can also linger in a state of timelessness, filled with deep inner feeling. For example, the dream sequences, which open and close the film. Also, the marvelous montage-interplay between the son and his girlfriend, as well as the trip the two young men take through the glowing streets of the golden city. Sokurov also uses distorted lenses for the city sequence and this seems to add to the effect of transcendence - he used this technique before in "Mother and Son" to astonishing effect.

So what exactly does Sokurov do in these eternal expanses?  Sokurov is consistently able in these films to discover subtle, deeply mysterious images that resonate profoundly in the open spaces he provides for them: "I was always driven by visual aesthetics, aesthetics which connected to the spirituality of man, and set certain morals." (Alexander Sokurov, Film Comment) For example, "Oriental Elegy" begins with a haunting mist that remains throughout the entire film. Through the mist, trees appear and then, as the camera pans, we see that we are on an island. The silhouette of the director is cast before a glowing moonlit lake. On the soundtrack we hear the Sokurov's voice, sounding alone and fascinated by this world within a world within a world. The mist carries us to a hillside covered with ancient buildings. A weathered statue of the Buddha appears and disappears. We hear in the far off distance snippets of Wagner and Japanese folksongs and the desolate sounds of wind and birds. Soon we are inside a modest Japanese home. The mist seeps through the doors and windows. We encounter a woman. Is she a ghost? Perhaps a floating memory of the distant past suspended like a dangling leaf in the unearthly fog? The mist carries us onwards, revealing more and more of its secrets. On this lost night, we are the ghosts searching for what we have lost. Only the mist knows us, and we are its captives. The whole film seems like one long take, eventhough it is quite segmented. This is surely one of the most beautiful films ever made.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that not all of Sokurov's images are up to the challenge of representing the spirituality of man, especially in "Father and Son". In fact, some of his "visual aesthetics" in this film are so askew from the world of the spirit that they often leave us in a state of complete bewilderment. Why, for instance, both father and son have such pumped-up, muscular bodies, which they continuously display by walking around bare-chested? This certainly doesn't help the viewer to make an immediate association with the spirituality of their relationship, which, after all, is at the very core of this film. Also, such overt display of physicality is highly unusual in Sokurov's work: most of his male characters have a normal physique of a person, who is more preoccupied with his inner life than with the sculpting of his muscles. Why then a change in this film of all films, a film that deals specifically with spirituality among men?.. Such strange choice of new physical aesthetics (new for Sokurov) has had far graver consequences for the director than he might have realized at first. It has created confusion in the viewers' associations, prompting one critic to call this one of the most homo-erotic straight films ever made. Sokurov, for his part, gets justifiably upset, when his film is reduced to a homo-erotic interpretation:

"Don’t try to put your own complexes onto the movie. Let it live! Be kind! Homo-erotic? For the movie you have seen, there’s no such low meaning. In a cruel world, nothing can be accepted but a homo-erotic view. I don’t see a place for it. I’m not interested in discussing it." (Alexander Sokurov)

It has, unfortunately, become an accepted practice to view not only all art, but even all life from a sexual perspective. Yet a genuine artist, as well as any intuitive person, will always have a natural aversion to this type of reduction. The New Time will be defined by the complete spiritualization of humanity - and this most definitely includes the area of sexual practices. They are not to be pushed aside, but thoroughly incorporated into the spiritualizing process, which quite naturally implies that sex can only take place under the conditions of genuine and profound spiritual love. Perhaps, this would be a good time to clarify for ourselves what constitutes the actual essence of man and what distinguishes him before all other creatures: his spirit.

"...I want to explain what spirit, as the only living part in man, is. Spirit is not wit, and not intellect! Nor is spirit acquired knowledge. It is erroneous, therefore, to call a person "rich in spirit" because he has studied, read and observed much and knows how to converse well about it, or because his brilliance expresses itself through original ideas and intellectual wit.
 
"Spirit is something entirely different. It is an independent consistency, coming from the world of its homogeneous species, which is different from the part to which the earth and thus the physical body belong. The spiritual world lies higher, it forms the upper and lightest part of Creation. Owing to its consistency, this spiritual part in man bears within it the task of returning to the Spiritual Realm, as soon as all the material coverings have been severed from it. The urge to do so is set free at a very definite degree of maturity, and then leads the spirit upwards to its homogeneous species, through whose power of attraction it is raised.
 
"Spirit has nothing to do with the earthly intellect, only with the quality which is described as "deep inner feeling" ("Gemuet"). To be rich in spirit, therefore, is the same as "having deep inner feelings" ("gemuetvoll" ), but not the same as being highly intellectual. " (Abd-ru-shin, In the Light of Truth: The Grail Message, Ch.19, Vol.1)
For a further explanation, read "SPIRIT" by Abd-ru-shin.

It quite naturally follows that man has a duty (a sacred duty, one might say) to see to it that the spiritual core, with which he has been endowed by his Creator, is not smothered by the baser tendencies of the material world. This in no way implies abstinence from material activities, but the most purposeful spiritualization of all of these activities. And Sokurov's primary concern is most definitely with the spiritualization of humanity. Where he goes wrong, however, is in advocating family relationships as the solution to the rapidly declining spirituality and morality in the world:

"Relations of blood are eternal... To try to distance yourself from your father should be a crime... there is no other object here than improving the morals, making us kinder." (Alexander Sokurov on "Father and Son")

It is an urgent necessity for anyone, who wishes to help arrest the spiritual and moral decline of humanity, to familiarize yourself first with the Eternal Laws of this Creation, because only from the perspective of these Laws can one gain some understanding of the Eternal Principles that match children to their particular parents. Then words, like "eternal", would not be misused, for the relations of blood in particular are NOT eternal. (Read "THE MYSTERY OF BIRTH" by Abd-ru-shin from "In the Light of Truth: The Grail Message".) While Sokurov has nothing but the best intentions at heart in wishing to help humanity, what he ends up doing is installing family relations on such a high pedestal as to make an idol out of them, thus violating the First Commandment, which warns against all idolatry. (Read an illuminating explanation of The First Commandment.) Another problem with Sokurov's assertion that trying "to distance yourself from your father should be a crime" is that in some cases, under the Laws of this Creation, distancing yourself from your father or your mother may be the right thing to do precisely for spiritual reasons. Those, who at one point or another have suffered in a family situation and struggled desperately (but in vain) to uphold the Commandment "Thou Shalt Honor Father and Mother!" will want to read Abd-ru-shin's explanation of it. 

In short, family relations are not automatically spiritual in and of themselves. Certainly, it is a worthy goal to try to transform them into truly spiritual relationships, but where this is not possible, they should not be prolonged by a kind of clinging to each other. There must at all times prevail a clear understanding that a child is an already formed and independent human spirit, who can inherit nothing of spirituality from its parents, but who must continue to develop its own spirituality.

Sokurov's passionate advocacy of family closeness as the way to spirituality and upliftment of humanity is not in harmony with the Laws of Creation, since in most cases, the family provides comfort, but no real basis for spiritual develop-ment. However, one should be careful not to lay blame for this squarely on Sokurov's shoulders. This is a worldwide frailty that has infected each and every one of us. Sokurov leaves himself open for criticism only because he is working at such a high spiritual level that his distortions glare evermore brazenly back at us. If he were a mediocre filmmaker, nobody would even notice. Heck, he probably would even win an Oscar. But such is the fate of the extremely gifted. They are at the forefront of humanity, so they are the ones that get poked and prodded and plundered first. That said, never for one moment in these selected films is there the slightest hint of falsehood. On the contrary, even with such distorted efforts as "Mother and Son" and especially "Father and Son", Sokurov's genuineness and sincerity more often than not seem to win through, which indicates that this is an artist of exceptional spiritual acuity and wakefulness.

In "Father and Son" he creates such a sustained spiritual atmosphere that Biblical references seem quite unnecessary, even unnatural. One such reference is repeated throughout the film: "A father's love crucifies; a son's love lets itself be crucified." It sounds somewhat poetic, but what does it actually mean?.. Humanity as of yet has not become clear on the real meaning of the crucifixion of Christ, and yet parallels with human relationships are already being drawn. (To discover the true meaning of Christ's crucifixion, read "The Crucifixion of the Son of God and the Lord's Supper" by Abd-ru-shin.)

"... conflicts arise when debts are not paid to our parents."                  (Alexander Sokurov)

Our first filial duty is to God the Father, Whose spiritual children we are. It is by no means to be assumed that our earthly parents live in harmony with His Will and His Laws. For this reason it is necessary to re-examine everything we have learned from our parents, comparing it objectively and courageously with the Light of Truth that has been sent into Creation at this time of purification. The Word has been sent to us for the second time since Jesus, because we have proved to be utterly incapable of grasping It in the form, which Jesus gave It during His stay on earth two thousand years ago. Naturally, the Word Itself remains the same for all eternity, but a Divine Envoy always gives It that form, which corresponds to the maturity level of humanity at a given time. Thus, for our time, the Word has been given the form which is suited to our highly intellectual way of thinking and which addresses our numerous distortions of basic concepts, such as Love, Justice, Purity, freedom, family etc. Those with an alert spirit and an objective mind will find It in "IN THE LIGHT OF TRUTH: THE GRAIL MESSAGE" by Abd-ru-shin (original in German "IM LICHTE DER WAHRHEIT: GRALSBOTSCHAFT")

 

                           
Copyright (c) 2004 Gregory and Maria Pearse