Europe is a continent in crisis. It’s being attacked by a strange and mostly invisible enemy, and a man is willing to sacrifice everything that he owns in order to restore peace in his country. His pledge to God ” I shall destroy my home, give up my son. I shall be silent, will never speak with anyone again. I shall give up everything that binds me to life, if You will only let everything be as it was before, as it was this morning, as it was yesterday: so that I may be spared this deadly, suffocating, bestial state of fear.”
The man is called Alexander and the country is Sweden, but this could be any man in any European experiencing “the fear from the outsider” – in this case an perceived nuclear disaster. A large and distorted map of Europe from the 17th century is a central element of the film, reminding viewers that this continent is in constant mutation, and that borders and national projects are very fragile, and just as fluid as time.
Alexander picks his saviours very poorly. He has sex with the perceived “witch” Maria convinced that this will change the fate of his home nation and continent. Once peace is apparently restored, he proceeds to carry out his remaining commitments with God, and promptly burns down his house (pictured above).
Fearful people often become delusional. They vigorously embrace makeshift and flawed heroes and passionately engage in deranged and fruitless action, misguided by the belief that their “audacious” demeanour – the “sacrifice” in the film title – will change the course of history.
This Swedish film was directed by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky in 1986, shortly before his untimely death to cancer. The film opens on the birthday of Alexander (Erland Josephson), an actor who gave up the stage in order to work as a journalist, critic, and lecturer on aesthetics. He lives in a beautiful house with his British wife Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood), stepdaughter Marta (Filippa Franzén), and young son, “Little Man”, who is temporarily mute due to a throat operation. The impending fear of a nuclear holocaust soon disrupts their peace and drives Alexander to the brink of insanity.
Curiously, the British character in the movie is the first one to break down. Adelaide panics and wails neurotically at the prospective collapse of Europe. There is no doubt that her erratic behaviour has a strong impact on her husband, who soon after embarks in his superstitious crusade to save the Old Continent.
The Sacrifice remains a very modern film about fear and madness. Fear that destroys, in the name of salvation. Madness makes you set fire to your own house, destroy everything you possess and go silent in the name of a strange salvation from an enemy that perhaps never existed.
The film is showing this week in cinemas across the UK as part of the major retrospective of the Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky – click here for more information.
Watch the film trailer below: