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Film / Ivan's Childhood

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Ivan's Childhood (Ива́ново де́тство, sometimes called My Name Is Ivan in the Anglosphere), is a 1962 Soviet Russian film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is based on the 1957 short story Ivan by Vladimir Bogomolov.

The film tells the story of an orphan boy named Ivan (played by Nikolay Burlyaev) and his experiences during World War II. Ivan was orphaned by the war—his father was a border guard who probably died on the first day of fighting, and his mother was killed by the Germans when they reached his village. Now Ivan, still a boy in his early teens, is a spy who infiltrates the German lines and brings back intelligence for the Red Army. His handlers, including Capt. Kholin and Lt. Galtsev, want to get Ivan out of harm's way by enrolling him in a military academy, but Ivan refuses to quit espionage work, because he thirsts for revenge.

Ivan's Childhood was Tarkovsky's first feature film. It won him critical acclaim and made him internationally known.

This film provides examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: By the end of the movie, Ivan, Kholin and Katasonych are dead.
  • Army Scout: Ivan is one for the Russians. Taking advantage of his small size, he proved successful on reconnaissance missions.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Ivan uses this technique to make Galtsev put him through to No. 51.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Though they're not biologically related, Galtsev and Kholin are effectively this for Ivan. Seeing as Ivan's entire family is dead, it makes sense that he would try to find a surrogate family among his comrades.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Between Masha and Kholin in the forest.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: At least it does when Ivan flings it at the wall.
  • Bookends: Happy Flashbacks of Ivan playing by the river with his mother and his sister open and close the film.
  • Catapult Nightmare: The idyllic opening scene of Ivan and his mother by the river is interrupted by a burst of machine gun fire. Ivan then wakes up in classic Catapult Nightmare style, revealing the opening scene to be a dream.
  • Child Soldiers: Ivan is 12 years old and participating in dangerous recon missions for the Soviet army. Truth in Television, as the Red Army really did employ millions of children as young as Ivan to serve in support and reconnaissance roles.
  • Crapsack World: The grim and depressing world of the Soviet Union in the midst of war. In one scene Ivan leaves the burnt-out windmill he's been hiding in, and finds a field littered with corpses.
  • Comforting Comforter: In one scene Galtsev carries sleeping Ivan to his bed and covers him up.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Of the 2.5 million or so Russian soldiers in Berlin in the spring of 1945, who finds the document showing that little Ivan was executed? His old friend Lt. Galtsev, of course.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: We learn that Ivan's entire family was killed by the Nazis. He brings this up as an advantage when volunteering for the climatic Suicide Mission.
  • Dead Guy on Display: The bodies of Lakhov and Moroz are put on display by the Germans as a deterrent. Kholin later cuts their bodies down and ferries them off for proper burial.
  • Death of a Child: In the last act we learn that Ivan was caught and hanged by the Nazis. Also the footage of Joseph Goebbels' six children lined up after being poisoned to death.
  • Dream Intro: The film starts off with a Happy Flashback dream of the protagonist, depicting a heartwarming moment with Ivan and his mother. The dream abruptly comes to an end with a scream and a Catapult Nightmare by the boy.
  • Dutch Angle: Early on, when Ivan exits the windmill, the camera is tilted to convey the sense of disorientation the boy felt after just having woken up.
  • Happy Flashback: Several throughout the movie, depicting Ivan together with his mom and other happier childhood moments. The peaceful childhood scenes build a stark contrast to the shadow-filled war environment Ivan finds himself in.
  • The Hero Dies: Kholin is killed in action sometime after Ivan leaves, while Ivan is captured and executed in Berlin.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Towards the end, Kholin puts on a record that mentions "Masha" in the lyrics. A moment later Masha, the army nurse, enters the room to say goodbye.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: It was not explained why Kholin and Galtsev, who are of higher military rank, had to be part of such a dangerous Army Scout mission.
  • P.O.V. Cam: From Masha's perspective as she dashes away from Kholin in the forest.
  • Poverty Food: In one scene we see Ivan, Kholin, and Galtsev eating a mushy meal out of brass bowls.
  • Revenge: Ivan is determined to avenge the death of his family by joining the partisans and killing Germans.
  • The Runaway: Ivan runs away early on to join the partisans in the west and avoid being sent to a military school by Kholin.
  • Scenery Gorn: The film takes place in a muddy battlefield somewhere in western Russia during the height of the Second World War, so of course this would show up. Particularly striking is the opening scene where Ivan leaves the windmill, with the only light coming from the flares above illuminating the dead trees, the corpses, and the wreckage of a bomber plane in the distance. Despite this...
  • Scenery Porn: There are some legitimately beautiful scenes, especially when Masha and Kholin are eloping in the forest and all the trees are pristine white.
  • Stock Footage: Used at the end to show the Russian conquest of Berlin.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: Very briefly seen from Russian soldiers celebrating in Berlin.
  • Time Skip: At least two or three years, it would seem, from the imminent German offensive that starts the film (possibly the one that ends at Stalingrad?), and the fall of Berlin in 1945.
  • Token Romance: A subplot features a budding romance between Masha the lovely medical corps officer and Capt. Kholin. It goes nowhere.
  • War Is Hell: It takes place in the bleakest part of the bloodiest war ever fought, so it would naturally feature this. The Russian people did not have it easy during the Second World War.