We went to see this move over the weekend, with friends, and all of us just loved it. It’s entertaining, informative, moving, and thought-provoking. In truth, I’m not sure which delighted me more, the film or my husband’s analysis of it; read on! The film is about the final days of Leo Tolstoy. It stars Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as his wife, Countess Tolstoy. You may remember Helen Mirren from her role as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen.
We see the then most famous writer in all of Russia surrounded by adoring disciples who admit he isn’t Christ, but are sure he is at least a prophet, speaking for God. They have developed a whole ideology centering around Tolstoy. More accurately, they have projected their own ideals onto Tolstoy, who himself doesn’t quite buy them and whose life certainly does not exemplify them. The “Tolstoyans” are anti-church and supposedly promote love and freedom, although nobody in the movement seems able to love, and there isn’t any freedom, either. Their very ideology gets in the way of both; they sacrifice love and freedom and one another and descend to manipulation in their efforts to propagate their cause.
Tolstoy is struggling with his guilt over being upper-class (a count) and privileged and wealthy. We see him succumb to the flattery of his worshipful followers – to the point that he has agreed to bequeath the rights to all his writings to the Movement instead of to his family. He has driven his wife to desperation by being so taken in by all the hoopla surrounding himself. She in turn makes his life miserable with her rages and the public scenes she creates, the screaming, the tears, the pathetic pleading.
Demetrios’ opinion was that she was the only sane character in the movie; all the others had gone off into la-la-land, driven and blinded by their passions masquerading as ideology. The Countess, though, wasn’t fooled. And, Demetrios added, neither was Masha, the other female protagonist in the movie; at least, not for long. The two women were the only ones not living a delusion.
“My dear,” he concluded, laughing, “the take-home lesson is this: we have a much better life than Tolstoy!”
I have to warn you there is the obligatory sex scene. It’s hot and heavy but mercifully brief. And it really is an integral part of the movie, part of the plot. But if you can live with that, go see this movie. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll think, you'll be grateful. Oh, and the acting is superb all around.