The Sacrifice Review

What does it mean to sacrifice something? Not a physical object, but a feeling or memory. Andrei Tarkovsky always composed massive, grand projects that looked to depict life in all its fleeting, suffering glory, but it is The Sacrifice that feels most poignant of all. Solaris was an exceptional, biting response to the apparent commercialist attitude of Stanley Kubrick and his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, whilst Ivan’s Childhood was of the beautifully brutal post-war filmmaking variety. Tarkovsky was an exceptional artist, a rare artist that could weave thick thematics into his visual flair. He was unconvinced by the happiness around him, unphased by the mechanisms of positivity, and nowhere is that clearer than here, in his final feature film.

Relying on Erland Josephson as Alexander, Tarkovsky presents the man who has it all. A rewarding career bringing new and exciting challenges to the life of his leading character, a superb accommodation, and a happy family. He has an idyllic way of living, and it is no shock that this happiness is upended. Everything is temporary, Tarkovsky seems to cry out as he stabs at the awkward pauses between old friends around the dinner table. Their selfishness is shown through their response to the news of nuclear warfare. They haggle with their inner turmoil, trying to spin some coherent spiel about how they must live on and for longer than they have.

Tarkovsky was good at that. He could make bad people sound convincing, even justifiable. The Sacrifice is full of them. They are individuals that stand against everything this director could feel or think. Materialistic, self-obsessed and jaded, yet the façade of a fancy career and fine dining friends is just enough to keep the curtains closed. The light does not pour in until it is too late for the change to make an impact. To that extent, then, it is clear what The Sacrifice is wishing to say, and what it wants to achieve when it finally breaches through the divider and connects with its audience. Are you satisfied? Not particularly, no, not in my case. Tarkovsky presents the idea that, if all we had were our memories of life on Earth, how accepting of closure would we be when the day of death comes? Not many would be gracious, I imagine. Not me, anyway.

Once the house is ablaze, are the memories inside lost forever? Not if the people who made them live on. That much can be the legacy of The Sacrifice, a film that is poetic excursion and emotional release not just for Tarkovsky, but for the cast and crew as well. Here is the final piece of film this great director ever presented to audiences, and it is no coincidence that it is the one he uses to muse on how he wishes to be remembered. We have all made sacrifices at some point in our lives, but Tarkovsky sacrificed stability and opportunity to keep his vision of life intact, not just here, but throughout his works. He is scared for what the future may hold and what the past will remember him for. So am I.

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