Leviathan pits a man against the state, and unbeknownst to him, the church. Kolya lives in a seaside, isolated home built by his own hands. He lives with his second wife (Lilya) and his son (Roma) from his previous wife. The corrupt mayor of the town (Vadim) has taken legal action to get hold of Kolya’s land in order to build upon it for reasons of his own, but is offering Kolya a far inferior compensation than it is worth. Kolya’s friend Dima, a lawyer, comes in to help Kolya fight this battle. This Leviathan (2014) movie review will contain SPOILERS.
The film touches on many problems present not only in Russia but in any nation: the separation of church and state, the out-of-control power of the government, the hopelessness of the individual fighting back, and various more individual themes of family, divorce, alcoholism, and masculinity. The government holds total control over the civilian characters in this film. The director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, continuously gives us hope through Dima’s discoveries. Dima prosecutes Vadim for his trespassing as well as digging up a scandal that could ruin him. But no matter how far Dima and Kolya go to destroy Vadim, it never proves much more than a mere annoyance. If Vadim cannot take the land lawfully, he will corrupt the law; if he finds his corruption coming to light, he will then use force. This is precisely what he does when he and his thugs take Dima out to the country and feign an execution to show what power they truly have and how consequences are non-existent to them.
Later it is revealed that the Orthodox Church has been planning to build a church where Kolya’s home is, and the bishop of the church sought Vadim’s help to steal that land. When the church and state comingle, there are none that can defeat either party. They fight together and back one another – one from the moral high ground and one from the legal. They take the side of the other willingly, knowing it will benefit them in a forceful, perpetual cycle.
When the biblical story of Job comes into play, Kolya is revealed as the modern representation of Job himself. But, unfortunately in this modern world where corruption is tied into the lives of all, including the Christian Church, Kolya is not being tested by God, but rather forced. There is no redemption for him in the end, winning back his home and his wife. The church presented the power they had, just as God did to Job, but Kolya receives no praise. If he relented and showed his piety, if he fought to keep what was his, all would end the same for him.
All of these thematic elements make for a wonderful film, but it is not perfect. The issues with this film lie around Lilya and Roma. Lilya does not have any apparent ambitions or motivations of her own rather than cheating on Kolya and serving as a tragic figure whose death sends him further into despair. Her cheating with Dima did not feel necessary. It left us disliking her and questioning what it all served in the greater purpose of the film. It added to the tragedy, of course, but simply making something more depressing and heartbreaking for no purpose other than that does nothing to add to the importance of the character. Roma’s character had little focus other than at the beginning and end of a film. His outbursts near the end came seemingly out of nowhere because the audience did not realize his struggle through the main body of the film. Obviously, Kolya is the central character, but more focus needed to be put on these ones as well.
Leviathan plays out like theater – the drama is so tangible and the deep insanity and emotions within the characters feel almost Shakespearean. Of course, the movie has many faults and I am in no way comparing it to Shakespeare in its brilliance, but within a few minutes of watching, I think you will see exactly what I’m getting at. Every line that these family members speak to one another feels tinged with some hidden emotion specifically built from their personalities. They are tragic figures from start to finish, and the events of the story move along with a fixed purpose. Leviathan is captivating, horrifying, and from a screenwriting and directorial perspective, is a stellar argument for film’s uniqueness from and necessity alongside other forms of art.
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