Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Removing Leo Tolstoy: Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina

Removing Leo Tolstoy: Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina

by Binoy Kampmark
February 12, 2013

Would you throw your self under a train for this? This curiously Downton Abbey styled adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina by Joe Wright suggests that this would be far fetched and needless in more ways than one. The man our heroine does it for seems wet behind the ears, and everything else. But here, the Bambi-eyed Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a bland, unconvincing prop of a man yearns to be with the married and dewy-eyed Anna (Keira Knightley). The Victorian stiffness is repaid in kind by a monastically disposed Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), who has other things on his mind. He becomes a wounded man of society – the great man of Russia – finding the moral coda he holds dear violated.

There in lies the challenge. One is already burdened by working a classic for an audience in terms of film location and delivery, and so alternative ways are sought to portray familiar themes. One thinks of Bernard Rose and his efforts in bringing, for instance, The Kreutzer Sonata to California or Master and Man to Colorado in Boxing Day. Here, Wright uses a Russian Theatre set in the 1870s. Within this highly stylised theatre setting, the tales of convention, morality and desire are told. It is a place where the seduction takes place, the wooing, and matters of state business conducted with cold precision. Then there are the side shots – the rejection of Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) by Kitty, and his escape to modest agrarian purity.

If there is praise to be found, it is the fact that Tom Stoppard’s versatile hand played a part. Extracting a workable screenplay from a massive tome of literature is no mean feat. So it is with little surprise that it is love, and more love, that is the focus of the film. It is either awkward and slightly constipated (Levin and Kitty), destructive and rule-breaking (Anna and Vronsky), stilted and societal (Karenin) or casually sexual (Oblonsky). Always, the brave if foolish woman must provide the blood insurance for the double standards a society demands. The horny chaps tend to be the first ones to be forgiven for their virile excesses.

Knightly is delectable, a sumptuous flower between scenes, and her Anna finds suitable psychological pitch. She loves, she grieves and she rages. That said, even between allusions to moving trains, tracks and impending death, she does not make a convincing case why she might have taken off with Vronsky, or improve upon her depiction of the progressive Duchess of Devonshire in Saul Dibb’s The Duchess (2008). Her death is immaculate and unconvincing – as is everything in terms of this romance. Vronsky is no hunk, though he makes some kind of stab at being a cad. Where on earth is the Slavic sense of doom, the gravy rich pondering over life’s inner sense of the tragic? This is a cinematic dish served cold, and for that reason, is excised of its Tolstoyan flavour.

In 1951, Lionel Trilling considered the weighty legacy of Anna Karenina and proposed that Tolstoy’s parading of objectivity was, in fact, a suggestion that we accept his world as real only in so far as we wanted it to be. “We so happily give our assent to what Tolstoy shows us and so willingly call it reality because we have something to gain from it being reality.” The performance seen here makes a valiant effort at gaining from this reality, but stumbles in forming its human characters. Complexity is sacrificed. This is Anna Karenina without Tolstoy and might well take its place amongst the latest Victorian-styled productions.

*************

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Suzan Mazur: Stuart Newman: The Virosphere And Non-Linear Evolution

It was Stuart Newman who was the first of the Altenberg 16 scientists I discussed developments with following the Extended Synthesis symposium in 2008 at Konrad Lorenz Institute, a meeting I was barred from attending for having gotten out in front of ... More>>

Werewolf: Artificial Intelligence: Real Anxieties?

The movie Ex Machina feels so current there are powerful moments of recognition – despite the seemingly unlikely scenario of a walking, talking artificial intelligence (AI). Right now Google is enlisting its massive databases, drawing on the contents of every email and Internet search ever made, in the service of what has been called ‘the Manhattan Project of AI’. More>>

ALSO:

Open Source, Open Society: More Than Just Transparency

Bill Bennett: “Share and share alike” is the message parents drum into children. But once they grow up and move out into the wider world, the shutters start to come down. We’re trained to be closed. Dave Lane, president of the New Zealand Open Source Society, says that explains the discomfort people find when they first encounter the open world. More>>

ALSO:

Werewolf: Journalism, History And Forgetting

Compare that [the saturation coverage of WWI] not just with the thinly reported anniversaries last year of key battles in the New Zealand Wars, but with the coverage of the very consequential present-day efforts to remedy the damage those wars wrought, and the picture is pretty dismal. More>>

ALSO:

Werewolf: Climate Of Fear

New Zealand, promoting itself as an efficient producer, has been operating as a factory farm for overseas markets with increasing intensity ever since the introduction of refrigerated shipping in 1882. The costs to native forests and to bio-diversity have been outlandish. The discussion of impacts has been minimal... More>>

ALSO:

Greek Riddles: Gordon Campbell On The Recent Smackdown Over Greece

There had been a fortnight of fevered buildup. Yet here we are in the aftermath of the February 28 showdown between the new Syriza government in Greece and the European Union “troika” and… no-one seems entirely sure what happened. Did the asteroid miss Earth? More>>

ALSO:

Keith Rankin: Contribution Through Innovation

The economic contribution of businesses and people is often quite unrelated to their taxable incomes. EHome, as a relatively new company, may have never earned any taxable income. Its successors almost certainly will earn income and pay tax. Yet it was eHome itself who made the biggest contribution by starting the venture in the first place. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news