Sunday, February 10, 2013

Anna Karenina - Joe Wright

When I saw this movie come out, I was in a bit of a quandary. You see, I really like Joe Wright, and I have since I saw his perfect adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. However, on the other hand, I strongly dislike Anna Karenina. It is such a melodramatic story, and I simply can't relate to the main characters, no matter how masterful the writing (the book is largely considered to be Tolstoy's masterpiece). On top of that, I had seen a couple of previous adaptations, and been largely underwhelmed - I don't like drama for drama's sake, and I always felt that the films tried too hard to force an emotional response.

But then, I saw the trailer for this latest adaptation, and was intrigued. It might not have been enough to drag me to a movie theater, but my mom insisted, and in the end, it was worth it.

Director ............................... Joe Wright
Screenplay ........................... Tom Stoppard

Keira Knightley .................. Anna Karenina
Jude Law ............................ Alexei Karenin
Aaron Taylor-Johnson ....... Count Vronsky
Matthew Macfadyen ........... Prince Oblonsky
Kelly MacDonald ............... Dolly
Domhnall Gleeson ............. Levin
Alicia Vikander .................. Kitty

The plot of Anna Karenina is well-known: set in late 19th century Russian high society, Anna Karenina, the wife of a high ranking imperial officer, starts an affair with the dashing Count Vronsky, which changes all their lives and ends up tragically. What I liked about this adaptation is that it moved beyond the novel's overflowing emotions by setting it in a theater. The whole feature is a long mise en abyme, where the world of the novel is represented in a place - the theater - where overflowing emotions are expected, are a part of the language.

This was a very bold move on Joe Wright's part, that in my opinion made this adaptation great. The visual sequences are so striking, the scenes so fluid (there are whole sequences that haven't been cut even once, all the actors hitting their marks perfectly - it is one of Wright's obvious strengths) that the plot becomes almost secondary. There are a few scenes that escape from this place, and open to a wider world, but they serve mostly to bring what is inside into starker focus.

The music and the acting both helped to maintain the illusion of reality - and I found there was an appealing sobriety in the expressions that made a pleasant counterpoint to the rich clothes and jewels.

There is probably more to say about the film - how funny and sensitive Macfadyen is as Oblonsky, about how this adaptation only touches lightly on the second part of the novel, the whole Levin story, etc... But really, the most impressive thing, what makes this adaptation stand out, are the visual choices, the creation of this permeable reality of the theater where the whole action takes place.


  1. Lol I just thought that I was procastinating and ended up on your blog! It's a great website!
    I unfortunatly dilsiked this adaptation, did not enjoy the theatre style on screen.

    I wish I could read the novel though, I have it in French, should try once. Bye!

    1. Lol - it was certainly fitting!

      I know there are many people who disliked this adaptation, and I actually understand why. I thought it took away a lot of the melodrama of this story, by making us focus on something else, and that's why I liked it.

      As for the book - you should definitely try it, it is very good. Just, be ready to dive into something that is a bit longwinded, as most Russian authors are. But there are some great passages, especially when Anna starts to lose it - her thoughts are written down almost as stream of consciousness, which is incredibly modern for the time.

      Anyway, thanks for the post! It's really cool to know that people read some of what I publish!



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