Saturday, July 21, 2012

Where I Discuss Anna Karenina

This article was first posted on September 12, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

Somehow, director Clarence Brown managed to stuff the essence of Leo Tolstoy's 900 page novel into this 95 minute movie. What is surprising is that the film doesn't feel rushed at all except during the transition when the eponymous heroine of Anna Karenina suddenly reverses herself and declares her love for Count Vronsky. Had a few more scenes (and minutes) been spent on this transition, the film would have been perfect.

Besides Anna's rather jarring admission to Vronsky, the only other complaint I have about the film is its rather sentimental ending, with the camera lingering on a photograph of the MILFalicious Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina, while Vronsky and Yashvin discuss Anna's death at the business end of a train and how it might have been (or might not have been) averted had Vronsky just been less of a cad.

As I mentioned before, there's a lot in this film. Not only is the basic structure of the story as told in the novel sumptuously brought to the screen, but the hypocrisy inherent in how society judges lapses in morality differently depending on the sex of the offender is given significant screen time; Vronsky, whom the film portrays as being the instigator of his doomed affair with Anna, barely suffers at all as a result of their adulterous liaison; the affair and its consequences end up being nothing more than minor speed bumps in the path his life happens to be taking. Anna, in contrast, has her life irrevocably ruined. I'd like to say that much has changed since the 1870's, when the novel was written, but that'd be naive of me.

Particularly bizarre and almost discomfiting to this viewer were the over-the-top displays of physical love shared by Anna and her adolescent son, Sergei; at the film's conclusion, I half expected Sergei to pluck out his eyes after Anna took her own life. What made these displays even more strange were that Anna seemed to show more passion in the kisses she lavished on her son than to the ones she bestowed upon Vronsky.


Also worthy of mention is BasilRathbone's rather creepy portrayal of Anna's husband, Alexei Karenin; barely showing any emotion and husbanding his movements to the extreme, he reminded this viewer of an ambush predator lying in wait for its prey. This impression was given even more weight due to Basil Rathbone's uncanny resemblance to a praying mantis. However, instead of literally seizing Anna and biting her head off, BasilRathbone's Karenin only bit off her head spiritually.

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