There is nothing like celebrating one’s 30th birthday, than with a Russian tragedy, er, love story. At least that’s what I convinced myself, and Boof, when he pressured to know how I wanted to spend today. I am usually terrible about thinking of celebratory things (especially things that don’t involve spending $100 on filet mignon at Daniel’s Broiler in Lake Union). But Anna Karenina is one of my favorite stories, a thick Russian love story/tragedy that occupied one good summer while I was lifeguarding and dreaming of someday being in love and married and possibly a mom.
I remember being confused at first, with a huge list of characters to memorize, and the Russian way of using nicknames and surnames that change, it was quite a challenge, and yet, I was drawn to the story, the woman: Anna. Tolstoy had this beautifully magic way of making her come alive on the page, and it was almost as if he was telling a story that was buried inside my soul, which shows his ability to not only relate to the greater human condition, but somehow understand a little about what goes on inside the hearts and minds of women. And the fact that I believed and knew and related so much to this beautifully awful complex woman made the ending that much more tragic.
But not so, in the movie.
The movie failed to capture the complexities of Anna, instead, the beautiful cinemetography and lack of substantial dialogue or even an omnipresent narrator given the task of explaining her innermost thoughts (they could have done with more actual quotes from the novel, I think), left the character of Anna more on par with that of Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attractions. She seemed mad with love, and yet it didn’t seem pure or good or anything explainable other than lusty desire and…madness, in the film. The character of Vronsky was also flat, and gave me, the viewer, little insight into what made him tick (besides his penis picking Anna) and failed to leave me with any reason why Anna would have picked him, even if it was with her ‘heart.’ If looks were the reason that brought them together, then character casting could have done a better job, at that. Because I knew the ending already, I was almost looking forward to her suicide, thinking, “when will Anna finally jump in front of the train,” which was a thought that caught me off guard since I so understood her in the book.
Because of my preconceived notions from the story, I was actually surprised that I felt a compassion and empathy with Anna’s husband, who appeared in the film as a man who had done nothing at all to deserve the roller coaster ride that she put him on. I wonder, is it age or wisdom or simply the movie-maker’s take on the story that has changed my experience of Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin.The setting, filmed as if this were a play, added confusion to the storyline and I felt like it was trying to hard, though the actual filming of the scenes were beautiful.
In the end, though, I am happy I saw the movie, even if it was only a pure escape for two hours. I so rarely get to sit in a theater and enjoy myself, so that was a real treat. And I am happy that I laid my fantasies about the story aside and got to see a different view of the same old tale of love and loss.
But I’ll leave you with a quote from the book:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina