Oscar® Nominee for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Music (original score), and Best Production Design
Reviewed by: Charity Bishop
Romance Drama Adaptation
2 hr. 10 min.
Year of Release:
November 16, 2012 (limited)
November 21, 2012 (limited—16 theaters)
December 7, 2012 (wide—384 theaters)
DVD: February 19, 2013
no one may build their happiness on another’s pain
the self-deception of believing that another person is the key to your happiness
carnal desire and passion
Devotion to living righteously is the only justifiable reason for living.
Sin has a price.
author: Leo Tolstoy
woman stuck in a loveless marriage
bond between a mother and her children
basing one’s happiness on success in high society
believing in “evil omens”
becoming the subject of gossip
being snubbed by former friends
living a life of lies and falseness
making decisions based on the visions of a “clairvoyant”
If a Christian commits suicide, will they go to Heaven? Answer
Dying of consumption/cancer
Where did CANCER come from? Answer
How did bad things come about? Answer
Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer
What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer
Does God feel our pain? Answer
What kind of world would you create? Answer
pure love vs. sensual lust
Though his own life story was fraught with controversy, Leo Tolstoy also wrote one of the most interesting contrasts between pure love and sensual lust, in the form of Anna Karenina. This most recent adaptation succeeds on a purely visual level, but not entirely on an emotional or spiritual one.
When it is discovered by her brother’s wife that he has cheated on her with a governess, Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) is dispatched to their home to convince her not to divorce her husband. Her success in this is undermined when she meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) at the station. He is immediately infatuated with her, and she with him, but Anna’s attempts to resist become more difficult once he follows her back to St. Petersburg, much to the distress of her respectable husband (Jude Law).
Count Vronsky is meant to be pursuing a marriage with Kitty (Alicia Vikander). In the hope of becoming his wife, she turns down a proposal of marriage from Levin (Domhnall Gleeson). But where one love story begins, another threatens to descend into destruction.
On several occasions, morality is addressed through its characters. Karenina quotes Scripture on the subject of “coveting your neighbor’s wife,” and Levin condemns adulterous love as being impure and ultimately unsatisfying (as is proven true in the extra-marital affair’s outcome). But where the themes of the book are much more evident, particularly when it comes to the role God plays in both Karenina and Levin’s life, here they are diminished or nonexistent, leaving viewers to read between the lines. The book’s purpose is to show us wild, passionate, sexual desire that turns itself inside out and descends into jealousy and contempt, contrasting it with a pure and innocent love that begins with an act of total forgiveness. Sadly, those themes are so downplayed in this version that Levin’s shift from an atheist to a man aware of the existence and goodness of God is also absent. What we are left with is an incomplete story that does hit some of the highlights of the moral messages of the book, but not the most important ones.
Purely from an artistic perspective, this is a masterful piece of work that approaches the material in a wholly unique way—by setting a stage. It works better than anyone anticipated, blending reality and metaphor with seamless and clever transitions. Some of the most powerful scenes are reminiscent of the director’s earlier work—much as he did with Elizabeth and Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice,” he isolates Anna and Vronsky on the dance floor, to draw us into their increasing passion for one another. The costuming is also scrumptious and everyone does a phenomenal job of acting, particularly Ms. Knightley in the lead. Whether or not it is worthy of an Oscar®, she reaches deep into the soul of the audience and, perhaps as a first for the character of Anna Karenina, makes us feel deeply sorry for her.
Unfortunately, some of the good themes of the film (such as forgiveness and the importance of marital fidelity) are undermined with sensuality, for three times we see active intimacy between couples—twice with Vronsky and Anna (there is no nudity, but lots of passionate kissing and faces in expressions of ecstasy) and once, as a reflection on a train window (this one contains movement). Side nudity is also seen as a couple sleeps entangled in one another’s arms. Many references are made to adulterous affairs and unchecked “passion.” There is one mild profanity and some violence (a pregnant woman is pushed to the ground, two people are hit by trains—one of them with a grisly aftermath).
Tolstoy powerfully shows how “love,” if unsupported with trust and fidelity, can be undermined by jealousy, self-loathing, and guilt. One of the most powerful moments is when Anna berates her husband for his forgiveness, for now she must “live with it.” Some characters condemn infidelity, others tolerate it, and a few embrace and/or dismiss its deeply sinful nature. It’s a shame that for the sake of time constraints, some important events were cut from the film, because it makes it emptier than it should be, particularly for a Christian viewer. Yet, in spite of its flaws, it still contains a powerful and sobering message of the perils of pursuing sin instead of righteousness.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
“…its covert anti-romanticism may limit appeal beyond specialty auds.… Eschewing the classical realism that’s characterized most adaptations of Tolstoy’s source novel, helmer Joe Wright makes the generally inspired decision to stylize his dark, expressionist take on ‘Anna Karenina.’ Setting most of the action in a mocked-up theater emphasizes the performance aspects of the characters’ behavior, a strategy enhanced by lead thesp Keira Knightley’s willingness to let her neurotic Anna appear less sympathetic than in previous incarnations.…”
“…Infidelity, Grandly Staged… Mr. Stoppard and Mr. Wright offer ‘Anna Karenina’ and its heroine to the gods of melodrama, who receive her gladly. But their film, wild and emotional as it is, does not quite hit the deep, resonant note of tragedy that would lift it above the merely (by which I mean the merely very) good. At the end you may be dazzled, touched and a bit tired. But, really, you should feel as if you had been hit by a train.”
“…The director, who is prone to static filmmaking disguised as ‘opulent’ and loyal to his reedy, perpetually high-strung leading lady Knightley, has made an ‘Anna Karenina’ that is excessively delighted with stagecraft and symbolism.… [B-]”
“…This is a sumptuous film—extravagantly staged and photographed, perhaps too much so for its own good. There are times when it is not quite clear if we are looking at characters in a story or players on a stage. Productions can sometimes upstage a story, but when the story is as considerable as ‘Anna Karenina,’ that can be a miscalculation. [2½/4]”
“…If there’s such a malady as hyperenchantment, this production suffers from it. While I was watching, eyes glazed from the too-muchness of it all…”
“…Anna’s story, still steeped in high-concept frippery, becomes less engaging as it goes, particularly as Wright massively pares it down to bring the movie to a close at a reasonable hour. The movie’s still gorgeous, but Anna’s great tragedy, condensed and accelerated and enacted underneath the visible ropes and pullies of the stage, never attains its power. [2½/4]”
“…“Anna Karenina” is a weirdly Baz Luhrmann-like film-stage hybrid and part musical-ballet.…”
“…Wright… unflinchingly depicts the horrible price Anna must pay for clinging to her relationship with Vronsky. Note that the unflinching part of those depictions involves sexual scenes and brief but grim violence.… Three misuses of God’s name.…”
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